The appeals course of for the trial of Rifaat al-Assad goes forward in Paris on Thursday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s uncle was initially convicted of cash laundering as a part of an organised gang, embezzlement of public funds and aggravated tax evasion. FRANCE 24 appears again on the lengthy profession of this Assad dynasty scion who amassed a colossal European property empire. The French justice system is wanting once more on the case of Rifaat al-Assad, who was sentenced to 4 years in jail in June 2020 for a spread of economic impropriety prices.The Syrian president’s uncle stands accused of fraudulently constructing a French property empire estimated at €90 million – together with two mansions in upscale components of Paris, some forty residences, a chateau and a stud farm.Bearing in mind his British and Spanish property belongings, Rifaat’s European empire quantity to a number of hundred million euros, in keeping with anti-corruption NGOs together with the French affiliation Sherpa, which introduced the grievance in opposition to him to the courts in 2013.A princely lifestyleRifaat al-Assad was born in Syria in 1937, and was introduced up as a part of the Alawite group. He has at all times insisted that he did nothing improper within the acquisition of his belongings. This youthful brother of Hafez al-Assad – Syrian President Bshar al-Assad’s father and president from 1971 to 2000 – mentioned that it was primarily because of the Saudi royal household’s generosity within the Nineteen Eighties that he was capable of construct his profitable empire.His allies say that the worth of those holdings is much under the sums relayed within the media. Rifaat has lengthy contended that his authorized troubles and the legal complaints levelled in opposition to him in France, Spain and Switzerland are a plot fomented by the Syrian opposition. He says he’s being focused due to his recognition in Syria.However it’s clear that Rifaat was certainly not predestined to grow to be such a tycoon. “Throughout his first trial there was a protracted dialogue of Assad’s rise to this huge fortune from a household of small landowners in Qardaha, northwest Syria,” mentioned Fabrice Balanche, a Syria specialist at Lyon College 2, who testified as an knowledgeable on the first trial in December 2019.“The scale of his belongings is out of proportion with the hundred acres of poor land his household possessed, 400 metres above sea degree, on which sharecroppers cultivated tobacco and durum wheat,” Balanche continued.Rifaat has lived in Europe since he was pressured into exile in 1984 after a failed coup in opposition to his personal brother Hafez.“Earlier than his exile, Rifaat was his brother’s right-hand man – and you possibly can say this hand was extremely armed; Rifaat was head of the Defence Brigades, a military corps composed of Alawites, the group the Assads come from,” Balanche mentioned.The Defence Brigades numbered some 50,000 males paid thrice the common for troopers within the Syrian military. It did the Assad regime’s soiled work – and its fearsome status burnished Rifaat’s ambitions.“Syria noticed a Muslim Brotherhood rebellion from 1979 to 1983, which ended within the notorious Hama bloodbath orchestrated by Rifaat’s Defence Brigades,” Balanche mentioned. This got here after they massacred tons of of prisoners within the Palmyra jail in 1980 to avenge an assault on the federal government.‘You don’t kill your personal brother’After this Rifaat was nicknamed the “butcher of Hama”. At current, he’s the topic of a legal investigation in Switzerland by NGO Trial Worldwide for his alleged involvement within the bloodbath – which for a lot of Syrians stays a pre-eminent image of the Assad regime’s cruelty.“The Defence Brigades have been additionally concerned in stealing property and trafficking antiques; they’ve a strong grip on smuggling, notably in Lebanon which the Syrian military occupied in 1976,” Balanche mentioned. “Lots of their barracks functioned as warehouses full of products from Lebanon, reminiscent of TVs, VCRs, cigarettes and international beers.”Removed from being an ideologue, Balanche continued, Rifaat was somebody who used his brother’s energy for self-aggrandisement: “He was the little brother who imposed himself by power; his aim was to build up wealth – way more than Hafez had, seeing because the latter was primarily enthusiastic about energy not cash.”Rifaat gained affect through the years – with the burgeoning of his clientelist networks and Hafez making him vice-president. This threatened his brother’s grip on energy when Rifaat took benefit of Hafez’s hospitalisation to aim a coup in 1984.“Hafez spared him after this betrayal since you don’t kill your personal brother; it might have upset their mom an ideal deal,” Balanche mentioned. “It’s additionally price noting that Hafez didn’t wish to danger a civil warfare throughout the Alawite group, as a result of on the time his youthful brother had loads of supporters – particularly throughout the military because of the Defence Brigades. So Hafez expelled Rifaat from Syria with a big sum of cash in order that he may bounce again overseas.”Lavish exile and Legion of HonourIn shame and disadvantaged of his Defence Brigade energy base, Rifaat settled in France with numerous wives, many descendants and a squad of bodyguards.“France’s intelligence companies have been very pleased that he was there,” Balanche mentioned. “Lebanon was mired in its [1975 to 1990] civil warfare and was occupied by Syrian forces – and on this context Rifaat constituted a treasured supply of data in opposition to Hafez, in addition to a type of device for use in opposition to him if want be,” Balanche mentioned. “Some French intelligence figures even noticed him as a helpful middleman within the arms commerce – and as a possible pro-Western successor to Hafez.”Then French President François Mitterrand made Rifaat a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1986. It stays a controversial transfer – in February, Sherpa and one other NGO Trial Worldwide urged President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw France’s highest honour from Rifaat in mild of the grave accusations in opposition to him.An interregnum to Rifaat’s French exile got here in 1992 when Hafez allowed him to return to Syria with a pardon, prompted by their mom’s funeral. He bought again the precise to do enterprise there.However the tide turned once more in 1998. “Rifaat was declared persona non grata and stripped of his title of vp as a result of Hafez noticed him as a hazard to his succession plan wherein his son Bashar would take his place,” Balanche famous.Bashar’s elder brother Bassel had been broadly considered Hafez’s most probably successor till his demise in a automotive accident in 1994.Upon Hafez’s funeral in June 2000 Rifaat accused Syrian authorities of violating the nation’s structure by appointing Bashar as head of state.“Now Rifaat carries no political weight in Syria,” Balanche mentioned. “He might need created a celebration and launched a satellite tv for pc TV channel [ANN] based mostly in London – and he might need backed the opposition as a result of he knew his solely probability of regaining a foothold in Syria was via regime change – however his previous adversaries weren’t fooled for a second.”“After a lavish exile and goals of ruling Syria instead of his brother after which his nephew, Rifaat’s final struggles are enjoying out in European courts – a far cry from each his Parisian palaces and his goals of nationwide management,” Balanche concluded.This text was translated from the unique in French.