April 4, 2017 / 12:43 PM / a year ago

Spain swoop targets uncle of Syria's Assad for alleged money laundering

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court said on Tuesday it has confiscated millions of euros worth of property owned by an uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his associates as part of a probe into alleged money laundering.

A Spanish Civil Guard officer stands guard outside the Gray D'Albion building at Puerto Banus in Marbella, southern Spain April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The swoop comes less than a year after Rifaat al-Assad, an opponent of his nephew’s government, was put under investigation in France for tax fraud and money laundering.

Magistrate Jose de la Mata has ordered the confiscation of holiday homes, car parks, luxury apartments and rural estates in southern Spain worth 691 million euros ($736 million), the High Court said in a statement on its website.

Rifaat al-Assad’s lawyer in France was not immediately available to comment. He previously declined to comment about the French investigation.

French investigators, who suspect Rifaat al-Assad of acquiring his wealth in France illegally, discovered that he owned real estate in Spanish tourist resorts of Puerto Banus and Marbella.

Other European countries cooperated on the investigation, and legal proceedings started in Spain last December, following a report by the prosecutor’s office at the high court.

After being sent into exile from Syria in the 1980s, Rifaat al-Assad is suspected of using money from state coffers to start accumulating a property empire abroad, the court said.

Spanish authorities seized a total 503 properties including a more than 33 million square meter ranch with a market value of 60 million euros. They also froze dozens of bank accounts.

Some of the assets are registered to Rifaat al-Assad and companies linked to him, and some to his wives, children and daughters-in-law. The owner of one of the blocked accounts is a Spanish citizen who heads the company that manages most of the Assad family’s business abroad.

Reporting by Isla Binnie and Maria Vega Paul; Editing by Paul Day and Alison Williams

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