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Syria: France upholds guilty verdict against Bashar al-Assad's uncle for money laundering

Rifaat al-Assad, a former vice president of Syria, faces the confiscation of his assets in France worth some $106m
A man pastes pictures of Rifaat al-Assad, right, and his son Ribal on a wall in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on 6 December 2007 (AFP)

A French appeals court has upheld a guilty verdict against an uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leaving him to potentially face a four-year jail sentence.

Rifaat al-Assad, 84, was convicted last year of aggravated tax fraud and misappropriating public funds in Syria and using them to build a property portfolio in France.

Although he may not go to jail as a result of his advanced age, Assad will see his property in France - worth an estimated 90 million euros ($106m) - confiscated, as per a court order.

The sentence was the culmination of a criminal investigation in France that had been ongoing since 2014. His trial focused on crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, though a court last June dismissed charges against him for crimes committed between 1984 and 1996.

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However, the court found him guilty of organised laundering of public money from Syria between 1996 and 2016, as well as tax fraud.

A former vice president of Syria, and brother of the country's late president, Hafez al-Assad, Rifaat fled the country in 1984 after launching a failed coup attempt against his sibling.

While in government he gained a reputation for brutally repressing dissent, particularly while leading armed forces in suppressing an uprising in the city of Hama in 1982.

The military's bombardment of Hama, which had been captured in an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood, is thought to have left as many as 40,000 people dead.

Among the assets accrued by Assad since arriving in Europe were two townhouses in upscale Paris neighbourhoods, a stud farm, around 40 apartments, and a chateau.

A property portfolio built up in Spain, thought to be worth 695 million euros ($821m), was seized by the country's authorities in 2017.

His lawyers have repeatedly stated that all his money had a lawful origin.