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Restitution of stolen assets

Switzerland must not reward dictators

NGOs* welcome the decision of the Swiss Federal Council to freeze in the funds of Haitian former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier for three more months. In a letter they request of the President of the Federal Council, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and of Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher to take the necessary steps for such funds to be kept frozen-in until the country of origin is able to initiate and lead regular procedure of international legal assistance. After exchanges with NGOs, Member of Parliament Remo Gysin considers identical measures in his formal inquiry to the Federal Council submitted today.

“In case of a failure to take these steps the international public could perceive Switzerland as a ‘safe heaven’ for stolen assets again“, the letter to the members of the Federal Council states. It refers to the recent repatriation of frozen-in funds to former Prime Minister of Madagascar, Tantely Andrianarivo who has been convicted for corruption as well as to the planned release of funds to the family of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Switzerland had caused worldwide public outrage with this announcement.

The NGOs point out that already in the case of Mobutu the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs had indicated the need to keep funds frozen-in, should the procedure of international legal assistance fail. They doubt the adequacy of the judgment of the Supreme Court, which had assessed a prolongation of the freezing-in as „excessive“. Contrary to the Supreme Court’s conclusions, they say that a government’s failure to deliver evidence necessary to establish the criminal origin of the funds means in no way that this government „apparently has lost interest“ in the procedure of legal assistance. Namely, as the Swiss Department for Foreign Affairs has stated, the reason for insufficient cooperation is that the perpetrators have weakened the judicial system of the concerned states.

It is against the interest of Switzerland to be internationally perceived as a country that even in the case of severe human rights abuses interprets property rights legalistically in favor of the perpetrators. Consequently, the signing organizations demand:

  • In the case of funds which Switzerland has frozen in according to art. 184 para. 3 Const. for protecting the reputation of Switzerland, the duration of the freezing-in must allow for the judicial system of the state seeking legal assistance to effectively execute a procedure of legal assistance by the end of this period.
  • Existing efforts to grant technical assistance in the procedure of legal assistance must be systematized. In case of insufficient capacities, Switzerland must consider, on a regular basis, to contract an independent third party (in analogy to the World Bank monitoring in the Abacha case in Nigeria).
  • In case of refusal of the formal proprietors to negotiate towards an agreement, there must be the possibility to exert pressure by virtue of threatening to extend the duration of freezing-in.
  • The existing gap in the International Legal Assistance Act is to be closed as soon as possible.

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*Aktion Finanzplatz Schweiz, Alliance Sud, Bread for all, CADTM-Suisse, Caritas Schweiz, Berne Declaration, Fastenopfer, HEKS, Kindernothilfe Schweiz, Plate-Forme Haïti de Suisse, Transparency International Swiss Chapter, infoe Switzerland, Broederlijk Delen, Droit pour la Justice, Dutch Haïti Platform, Entraide et Fraternité, EURODAD, GREF France, Haïti Advocacy Platform Ireland-UK, Jubileo Sur, Jubilee USA, Plate-forme Dette & Développement, Plate Forme française Paradis Fiscaux et Judiciaires, Tiako-i-Madagasikara


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