Bashar al-Assad’s uncle sells Paris mansion for €70 million
Bashar al-Assad’s uncle has hastily sold a sprawling Paris mansion for €70 million after it had been on the market for €100 million, apparently fearing it could be seized by police.
Rifaat al-Assad, who allegedly has the blood of at least 25,000 people on his hands, sold the seven-storey home on one of Paris’s most desirable stretches of real estate overlooking the Arc de Triomphe.
Avenue Foch has been dubbed “the avenue of ill-gotten gains” by French media since police seized another mansion two doors down belonging to the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of misuse of public funds by foreign leaders and their families.
Mr Assad owns a string of properties elsewhere in Paris and other cities abroad, including a £10 million Georgian mansion in Mayfair, London.
The Syrian former vice president, once head of the feared Defense Companies paramilitary unit, has lived in exile since he unsuccessfully tried to seize power from his brother, Hafez, in 1983.
He is reviled by many in his homeland for leading a February 1982 military assault on Hama to suppress an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, that some claim left between 10,000 and 25,000 people dead.
The bloody attack, in which entire districts were alleged to be razed to the ground, earned him the nickname of “the Butcher of Hama”.
It is understood that Mr Rifaat made a multi-million pound profit by selling the building at 38 Avenue Foch – one of the most prized properties in the French capital.
The 12,000ft property, which has its own underground swimming pool and sports hall, had been on sale for the past year at €100 million, but three weeks ago he cut the price by 30 per cent and accepted €70 million.
He is thought to have acquired the house for at least half that amount – meaning he still likely made a considerable profit.
The sale will anger the victims of his family’s brutal campaign to win the civil war, which has been raging in Syria for the past two-and-a-half years.
The buyer of the house is thought to be a Russian billionaire.
“Rifaat al-Assad has a fortune which runs into billions of euros, for which opponents of the Assad family would love to know the origin,” according to French newspaper Libération.
He is thought to be selling up in France, where he also owns a country estate with stables, another Parisian mansion and dozens of flats, due to concerns the French government is trying to clean-up its image.
Earlier this month, a Paris appeals court upheld the application of an international arrest warrant for Teodorin Obiang Mangue on money laundering charges.
The court also upheld a decision to seize the 42-year old playboy’s pied à terre at 42 Avenue Foch, estimated to be worth up to €150 million. The building contains a disco, cinema, steam baths, sauna, hair salon, gold- and jewel-encrusted taps, lift and pink marble dining room with coral pillars and 20-yard glass table.
Fraud squad officers carted off a Rodin statue, 300 bottles of chateau Petrus wine worth €2.1 million and €18.5 million worth of art works bought from the 2009 sale of Yves Saint Laurent’s private collection.
Since 2010, two judges have been probing the source of money spent in France by President Obiang and his family, as well as Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.
The charges were brought by Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group.
Libération asked: “Did Rifaat al-Assad need fresh money or was he worried by his Equatorial Guinean neighbour’s judicial woes?”
Last year, two Right-wing local councillors wrote to then French president Nicolas Sarkozy to ask him to freeze all the Assad family assets in France. “We don’t want our district to become a refuge for dictators of all kinds,” they wrote.
Since the Syrian uprising, the European Union and the US have imposed asset freezes on around 150 individuals deemed “responsible for the violent repression of the civilian population in Syria”.
The opposition Syrian National Council has called for Rifaat al-Assad to be subjected to international sanctions like current senior officials in the Syrian government. But to date he has not been targeted.
Mr Assad, who is protected by dozens of bodyguards said to taste his food for fear of poisoning, considers himself the legitimate successor to his brutal nephew, who he recently predicted could not stay in power much longer.
His London-based son, Ribal, recently claimed his father was innocent of the Hama massacre, and had been framed after being accused of trying to stage a coup against his brother.
“When they wanted to get him out of Syria there was a conspiracy to get him out,” he said. “When he left (Syria) in 1984 they started to accuse him of corruption, of everything, because they wanted to blame him for everything.”
Rifaat al-Assad denied the assault was as devastating as many independent report suggest in an interview with Paris Match in September. “Hama was not bombarded, it wasn’t destroyed. Some roads have even been widened,” he said.