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Syrian president allows exiled uncle to return to Syria, report says

Rifaat al-Asaad fled Syria in 1984 after launching a failed coup attempt against his brother, the late president Hafez al-Assad
Archive image: A member of the Alawite community pastes posters of Syrian opposition leader Rifaat al-Assad (R) and his son Ribal on a wall in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, 06 December 2007
A member of the Alawite community pastes posters of Syrian opposition leader Rifaat al-Assad (R) and his son Ribal on a wall in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, 06 December 2007 [AFP]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allowed his exiled uncle Rifaat to return to Syria, the pro-government Al Watan newspaper reported on Friday.

"Rifaat al-Assad arrived in Damascus yesterday, in order to prevent his imprisonment in France after a court ruling was issued and after the confiscation of his property and money in Spain," it added.

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

A former vice-president of Syria, and brother of the country's late president and Bashar's father, 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.

He was handed a four-year jail sentence earlier this year that he was unlikely to serve because of his age, but the ruling cleared the way for all his property in France to be seized. His French fortune included two townhouses in chic Parisian neighbourhoods, a stud farm, about 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.

Rifaat al-Assad is widely held responsible for the suppression of an Islamist uprising in 1982 against then-president Hafez al-Assad. Many thousands were killed.