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Rifaat al-Assad, the Syrian president’s uncle, under investigation in Puerto Banús

  • The Guardia Civil raided the reclusive millionaire’s properties on Tuesday as part of an international money-laundering operation

It isn’t a palace, it’s a luxury apartment block at the entrance to Puerto Banús, but locals call it the ‘Syrians’ palace’ rather than by its name, Gray d’Albion. The building, with its pink marble façade and golden domes, is the height of ostentation. On Tuesday, however, people were gazing at it for a different reason. Early that morning 30 Guardia Civil officers arrived to search the homes and offices of Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and uncle of present leader Bashar al-Assad.

Rifaat al-Assad is at the centre of an investigation into money laundering by a criminal organisation. The investigation, called ‘Operation Scar’, is being led by judge José de la Mata and information has been obtained from French judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke, who is investigating Al-Assad’s wealth in that country.

De la Mata authorised 15 raids to be carried out on Wednesday, most of them in Puerto Banús, three summonses were issued, and the bank accounts of 16 people linked to Rifaat al-Assad were frozen, as were a further 76 company accounts.

The Guardia Civil removed numerous items from the building, including jewellery, antiques, tapestries and six vehicles. The fire brigade assisted with the operation and opened several safes, which were found to contain documentation but no money. So far, nobody has been arrested.

As well as the Gray d’Albion building, where Al-Assad owns most of the apartments and where some of his sons have their permanent residence, the Guardia Civil also searched other properties associated with the Syrian: the Park Banús hotel, the Benabolá apartments, an underground car park by the entrance to the port and several commercial premises.

According to judge De La Mata, Rifaat al-Assad used seven of his children, two wives and two daughters-in-law to hide his businesses and 503 properties in Spain, which are valued at 690 million euros and were acquired through 34 companies associated with his relatives. He is believed to have been investing in this country since 1988.