French top court upholds prison sentence of Bashar al-Assad's uncle

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PARIS (Reuters) -France's highest court on Wednesday confirmed a ruling that found Rifaat al-Assad, an uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was guilty of acquiring millions of euros worth of French property using funds diverted from the Syrian state.

The verdict by the Cour de Cassation, which comes at the end of a long process marked by various appeals, confirmed a four-year prison sentence handed to Rifaat al-Assad, who returned to Syria last year after losing access to his French wealth.

"The assets held by Rifaat al-Assad in France seized during the proceedings will be definitively confiscated", said Sherpa, a France-based group of human rights lawyers whose criminal complaint in 2013 triggered the proceedings.

Assad, 85, had lived in exile, mostly in France, since the mid-1980s, after being accused of trying to seize power from his brother, then-President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father.

He returned to his country of birth in October after he lost access to his wealth in France.

Assad previously commanded troops accused of killing thousands of people to crush an Islamist uprising in 1982.

French judicial authorities suspected him of having unduly acquired real estate in several countries between 1984 and 2016 with funds from Syria. He repeatedly denied the allegations and said he acquired his wealth as a gift from the Saudi king.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Tassilo Hummel, William Maclean)