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Aunt of Syria's Assad allowed to live in UK after 'pledging to invest millions'

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria's war. [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 January, 2019

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The wealthy aunt of Syria's regime head Bashar al-Assad was secretly granted the right to live indefinitely in the United Kingdom after promising to invest millions in the country.

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Syria, UK, Assad

The wealthy aunt of Syria's regime head Bashar al-Assad was secretly granted the right to live indefinitely in the United Kingdom after promising to invest millions in the country.

Her two grown-up children, first cousins of the brutal Syrian dictator, were also allowed to stay, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The 63-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the fourth wife of Bashar's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad.

Dubbed the "Butcher of Hama", he headed an elite force that put down a Sunni insurrection in the central city in February 1982, a crackdown that claimed between 10,000 and 40,000 lives, according to varying estimates.

Two years later, he fled the country after mounting a failed coup bid against his brother Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, who led Syria from 1971 to 2000.

After he arrived in Europe, Rifaat al-Assad's lavish lifestyle with four wives and a dozen children soon raised eyebrows.

The decision to grant his fourth wife indefinite leave to remain in the UK was made in 2012 at the height of Syria's devastating conflict, when Theresa May was home secretary, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the Assad regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

Another son of Rifaat, who has a different mother, was granted indefinite leave to remain in 2014.

Details of the case were revealed in a 37-page court ruling by the Home Office's Special Immigration Appeals Commission after the family lodged an appeal last year after being denied British citizenship.

The British Home Office was advised by the Foreign Office that issuing citizenship to the close relatives of Assad would be interpreted as a "softening stance towards the regime and of faltering commitment to the opposition".

The ruling says Assad's aunt, named as 'LA' in the document, was given clearance to enter the UK in 2006 as an "investor".

She claimed to be investing in "bonds" and "hedge funds", according to the document.

The breadth of Rifaat al-Assad's alleged fortune is dizzying, with more than 500 properties in Spain, two mansions in Paris, a stud farm and chateau near the French capital, and 7,300 squares metres of office space in Lyon.

He is facing corruption charges in France after a four-year probe by authorities.

In 2017, British MPs demanded that the home secretary strip Asma al-Assad, Bashar's wife, of her British citizenship.

Asma al-Assad was born in west London to Syrian parents. A number of Assad and his wife's family live in the UK.

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