SPANISH prosecutors are seeking a historic €1 billion fine against Rifaat Al-Assad for decades of alleged money laundering in the country, the Olive Press can reveal.
The so-called ‘Butcher of Hama’ is accused of orchestrating a criminal network dedicated to laundering hundreds of millions of euros obtained from illegal activities.
In 150-plus pages of court documents from Madrid, seen by the Olive Press, Al-Assad, the uncle of embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, and several of his family members, are alleged to have used the profits from extortion, smuggling, plundering of archaeological artefacts, drug trafficking and more to line their pockets for almost four decades.
The conclusions from years of investigation claim Al-Assad made a deal with his brother in 1984, the then Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad, to ‘drain the national treasury of $300 million.’
The pre-trial report reads: “They concealed $200 million as expenses of the presidency from Syria’s official budget, and another $100 million they obtained by increasing public debt through a loan granted by Libya, which was disguised as an increase in imports.”
It claims that much more was obtained by Rifaat through illegal avenues.
“Throughout his career in Syria, in the 1970s, Rifaat Al-Assad, using the ‘shabiha’ and Brigades of Defense and other military groups, obtained huge resources via extortion, threats, smuggling, plundering of archaeological wealth, usurpation of real estate and drug trafficking,” the document adds.
According to the findings of the investigation, Rifaat then launched a ‘strategy of concealment, transformation and laundering’ of the illegal cash across Europe, including in France and the UK.
In Spain, he supposedly entrusted his family members to run a string of companies to manage the hundreds of millions of euros worth of assets.
His sons Mohammad Ali Al-Assad and Siwar Al-Assad were chiefly in charge of the operation in Spain, the documents claim, and took direction from Rifaat.
The court papers read: “Since this family group led by Rifaat Al-Assad arrived in Spain, there has been a disproportionate increase in real estate and movable assets throughout the world, and especially in our country, where they made investments of hundreds of millions of euros.
“The operations that they have deployed have been presided over with the utmost opacity: the creation of hundreds of companies in tax havens, the implementation of corporate structures at different levels, generating completely artificial dependencies, with the sole purpose of hiding the beneficial owners; the use of figureheads; the granting of loans between companies located in tax havens and others with headquarters in Spain to simulate losses or to introduce capital into Spain and payments for the acquisition of assets from companies located in offshore territories dependent on Trusts.”
It adds that the majority of the family’s multi-million dollar investments in the country ‘lack justifications’ beyond being transfers between companies in different tax havens.
“The main justification provided by the Al-Assad family for the legal origin of their assets (gifts from the royal family of Saudi Arabia) has proven to be absolutely false,” it claims, “There are hundreds of shell companies and a complex financial network dependent on various Trusts in tax havens, behind which the members of the Al-Assad family and, in particular, their boss Rifaat Al-Assad, hide their identity.
“All this structure has the sole purpose of facilitating money laundering; providing the necessary tools that allow corporate interrelation in order to avoid taxes to the treasury; hiding the identity of its true owners and protecting the properties behind shell companies before a possible investigation.
“The organisation has provided itself with a team of legal, financial, tax and corporate advisers who designed, planned and implemented the entire criminal laundering strategy of the defendants and advised them throughout the money laundering process that was carried out exactly the way these professionals planned.”
The report has asked that Rifaat be fined €1 billion and that every family member involved, including his two sons, be sanctioned €700 million each.
At least four Marbella-based accounting and legal firms are also implicated in the case, accused of helping the family launder their ill-gotten gains ‘willingly and knowingly’.
Rifaat has spent a fortune on Spanish property since first buying a car park in 1986 via a company registered in Gibraltar.
The 83-year-old had hundreds of properties confiscated in 2017 when Spain first launched its probe into his alleged money laundering scheme.
Police launched a series of dramatic raids on properties in Marbella and Puerto Banus in April of that year and froze the accounts of 76 companies.
There was also the seizure of a 33 million sqm plot in the wealthy enclave of Benahavis and dozens more along the Costa del Sol.
His property empire in Spain was believed to be worth around €695 million, but a legal source has claimed its much more.
“They have embargoed all of the family’s bank accounts and properties in Spain,” an individual close the case told this paper, “it’s valued at around €900 million.”
The former Syrian vice president violently struck down an uprising in the country back in 1982, which killed 25,000 people, earning him the chilling nickname The Butcher of Hama.
It is not known when the family will stand trial in Spain.
More details to follow…