The discovery of new specimens of Pachyvaranus crassispondylus Arambourg, 1952 from the Maastrichtian phosphates of Morocco and Syria enables us to (1) redescribe in detail this poorly known varanoid lizard, (2) provide a more detailed diagnosis and (3) re-evaluate the systematic affinities of this taxon within squamates. The latter is placed in Pachyvaranidae nov., considered a new unranked clade of non-pythonomorph Varanoidea. The intense pachyosteosclerosis observed in the vertebrae and ribs suggests a primarily aquatic mode of life for Pachyvaranus. This is in accordance with the sedimentological context (shallow marine environment). As for its palaeobiogeographical distribution, Pachyvaranus is a component of the marine reptile assemblages from the southern margin of the Mediterranean Tethys, around palaeolatitudes 20° N. The osteoderms previously referred to this taxon by Arambourg are reanalysed and assigned to a teleost fish.