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Swiss: Gadhafi clique stashed $416 million

Switzerland said Monday it had found 360 million Swiss francs, nearly $416 million, of potentially illegal assets linked to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his circle.
/ Source: news services

Switzerland has found 360 million Swiss francs, nearly $416 million, of potentially illegal assets linked to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his circle stashed in the Alpine country, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

Some 410 million Swiss francs ($474 million) traced to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and 60 million Swiss francs ($69 million) linked to former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have also been identified, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said.

"In the case of Libya, it was 360 million Swiss francs," Knuchel told Reuters. "These amounts are frozen in Switzerland following blocking orders by the Swiss government related to potentially illegal assets in Switzerland."

Both Tunisia and Egypt — where unrest led to the ousting of Ben Ali and Mubarak — are in touch with Swiss judicial authorities regarding their formal requests for legal assistance to seek return of the funds, according to Knuchel.

No such discussions are underway with authorities in Libya, where Gadhafi is clinging to power in the face of an uprising and NATO air strikes.

Neutral Switzerland had previously announced that it was freezing any assets linked to the three North African leaders, thereby requiring financial and other institutions to report any suspicious funds.

The respective amounts were fairly "stable," based on information provided by Swiss-based financial institutions to authorities, Knuchel said. He declined to name the banks or the regions in which the accounts or properties are held.

Tunisia and Egypt haven't yet provided information about possible criminal wrongdoing that is required to start unblocking the frozen assets of ousted presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak, the Swiss government said.

The Swiss government sent diplomatic cables to Tunisia and Egypt in late March explaining that those governments must submit evidence of any criminal wrongdoing involving the money so Swiss authorities can decide whether the offenses also would be punished in Switzerland.

Switzerland froze assets linked to Tunisia's ousted president and 40 people in his entourage on Jan. 19, less than a week after Ben Ali was toppled. Then on Feb. 11, the Swiss froze assets of Mubarak and his associates.

In both cases, the money is locked up for three years while Tunisia and Egypt satisfy Swiss legal requirements by providing information on any financial crimes that could be prosecuted on Swiss soil.

Swiss authorities also froze assets belonging to Ivory Coast's now deposed President Laurent Gbagbo in January.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten assets.

Its cabinet has previously taken blocked funds in accounts held by deposed leaders including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Nigeria's Sani Abacha, buying time for foreign prosecutors to build a case for restitution of funds.

Knuchel said that Switzerland had returned $800 million, held by Abacha, to Nigeria, although it took some 4-5 years to complete legal proceedings.

"It was a good example of restitution," he said.

The Swiss Finance Ministry said earlier on Monday it had started proceedings to return assets of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, frozen since 1986, to the Haitian government.