PARIS, Sept 30 Paris prosecutors said on Monday
they had opened a preliminary investigation into whether an
uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad illegally acquired
millions of dollars of assets in France.
Two French anti-corruption campaign groups, Sherpa and
Transparency International France, filed a complaint earlier
this month alleging corruption, money-laundering, embezzlement
of public funds and misuse of corporate assets by Rifaat
al-Assad, a former military commander.
He is widely held responsible for crushing a 1982 Islamist
uprising against his brother, then-president Hafez al-Assad,
Bashar's father, in which many thousands were killed. He later
turned against the Syrian government and now lives in exile in
France and Spain.
His lawyer has denied any wrongdoing by his client, telling
Reuters last week that his real estate holdings dating back to
1984-1986 were both legal and transparent.
Le Monde daily estimated Rifaat al-Assad's total real estate
assets in France at 160 million euros ($216 million).
In a preliminary investigation, police determine whether
there is enough evidence to open a formal investigation.
($1 = 0.7385 euros)
(Reporting By Gerard Bon, Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing
by Paul Taylor)