Rifaat al Assad

OPPOSITION parties have blasted the Gibraltar government for failing to react to the controversial Rifaat al-Assad deal for the Europort building.

Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon insisted the government needed to explain the deal to show it has a ‘moral conscience’, rather than burying it under ‘layers of legal jargon’.

Meanwhile the GSD has asked if an investigation is to be launched over the sale and purchase of the building, which is linked to the family of Gibraltar’s Financial Services Minister.

In a series of key questions, its leader Keith Azopardi QC asked last night if the sale was being probed by legal bodies, given the ‘serious historic allegations’ against the so-called ‘Butcher of Hama’, the uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The case broke after it was revealed that Rifaat – who earnt his nickname after allegedly killing up to 25,000 Syrians – was selling the building for £17.5 million to a company majority owned by trusts associated with the finance minister Albert Isola and his family.

The Isolas deny that the building was sold at an under value.

According to GBC, the Isolas’ company Fiduciary also part-managed the sale for Rifaat, who is being probed for money laundering, tax evasion and corruption in France, Spain and the UK.

The sale comes at a convenient time for Rifaat, who has seen hundreds of properties and bank accounts frozen around Europe.

“I believe this issue has to be explained in detail to the Gibraltarian people in a way that is understandable by all,” Nahon said in a statement.

She added it should ‘not be buried under layers of legal jargon and coded language’.

“It is the good reputation of Gibraltar PLC which is at stake here, and that has the potential to affect us all.”

Nahon added: “Gibraltar should be a beacon of good practice and we should be able to show the world that we have a high standard of ethics and a moral conscience, as well as being a robust financial centre.”

The GSD yesterday joined the fray when it insisted it would be raising questions in Parliament and wanted to know if the Attorney General was investigating the sale.

It also asked if any ‘distributions’ to Rifaat from the sale were to be ‘frozen’ in Gibraltar.

In a series of written questions, Azopardi asked: “What is the OCPL (Office of Criminal Prosecution) doing in relation to this case?”.

He added: “Is the Attorney General investigating this matter?

“In the light of current international proceedings are distributions to the Assad family to be frozen by local authorities?”

The Government has yet to comment on the case.

“We have spoken to Fabian Picardo about this and we don’t know yet if he is going to comment,” a spokesman told the Olive Press last night.

The controversy comes two weeks after the Gibraltar government website was mysteriously hijacked by hacking collective Anonymous.

A Message from the Olive Press

The Olive Press is dedicated to ensuring that its readership is informed of all matters of public interest. There is no doubt that the Assad/Isola affair is a matter of huge public interest, not just in Gibraltar but internationally.

Suffice to say that the main opposition party in the Gibraltar parliament and independent member Ms Nahon have asked for an explanation.

Our commitment to the free flow of accurate information is undimmed.

Having read the detailed letter sent to the Olive Press yesterday by the solicitors for the Isola family we will take legal advice and check and re-check all the facts.

If we find that anything which we have reported on is inaccurate we will immediately rectify this.

Similarly should we find out more information that we consider the public has a right to know then we will publish it.

Gibraltar has a right to transparency and a right to know.