THE disgraced Marrache brothers were ‘the most important’ part of Rifaat Al-Assad’s money laundering scheme in Gibraltar, court documents have claimed.
In a pre-trial report against the so-called Butcher of Hama, it is alleged the Marraches helped Al-Assad and his family operate a sophisticated and complex network of dozens of shell companies to help move around millions and invest in property in Spain.
“The most important gestores (financial managers) of the family in Gibraltar were the Marrache brothers, who have already been convicted and sentenced in that jurisdiction to severe prison terms,” the documents obtained by the Olive Press read.
The Gibraltar connection began in 1998, when Al-Assad allegedly set up High Mountain Estates LTD in the Bahamas, which in turn was owned by the Alhambra Trust, also owned by Al-Assad’s family and based in the Bahamas.
The former was the umbrella of 29 Gibraltar companies, 1% of each of those being owned by another company, Groove Limited.
In other words, HIGH MOUNTAIN ESTATES LTD owned 99% of each of these 29 companies and GROOVE LIMITED owned the remaining 1% of each.
In turn, Hiba Development SA owned 99% of Groove Limited, with the remaining 1% being owned by Raja Barakat, the wife of Rifaat Al-Assad.
It was a highly complex system built to hide the true owners of the companies which would acquire millions of euros worth of assets in Spain.
These included several properties within the luxury Gray d’Albion development in Puerto Banus, Marbella, which would later be seized in 2017.
These companies were then transferred to Spain where, with the help of Marrache & Co, constantly changed hands among Assad family members and trusted allies.
The last known owners of the companies were Rifaat’s sons, Mohammed Ali and Siwar Al-Assad.
The court report explains: “The Al-Assad family began the creation of a complex corporate network aimed at hiding the true ownership of the properties acquired through the different ‘shell companies’.
“Behind these would finally be found a family Trust run by relatives and expert managers who would have helped Rifaat Al-Assad build the complicated system.”
Spanish prosecutors are seeking a historic €1 billion fine against Rifaat Al-Assad for decades of alleged money laundering in the country.
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.
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 archeological 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 judgement reads: “$200 million they concealed as expenses of the presidency, from the Syrian official budgets, and another $100 million they obtained by increasing Syrian public debt through a loan granted by Libya, which was disguised as an increase in imports from that country.”
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 illegal activities: extortion, threats, smuggling, plundering of archaeological wealth, usurpation of real estate, 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 – and allegedly with the help of the Marraches, Gibraltar.
Benjamin and Isaac Marrache, the two brothers mentioned in the papers, were sentenced to between seven and 11 years each on charges of conspiracy to defraud in 2014.
Marrache & Co’s involvement with the Assads ceased on February 8, 2010, when both were first arrested and their offices raided.