Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swiss Court: Duvalier Family Appeals Cash Freezing


Relatives of Haiti's ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier have appealed a decision by Switzerland to keep frozen at least $4.6 million claimed by the family, a court said Wednesday.

The appeal challenges an emergency government decree to keep the money blocked in a Swiss bank until a new law can be passed allowing it to be donated to aid groups working in Haiti, Federal Administrative Court spokesman Andrea Arcidiacono said.

It is the latest move in a long-running legal battle by the Duvalier clan to retrieve the cash many Haitians consider stolen from public funds by Duvalier before he was ousted in 1986.

Switzerland's top court decided Jan. 12, just hours before a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, that the money must be returned to Duvalier's family because the statute of limitations on any crimes committed by the Duvalier clan would have expired in 2001.

The ruling embarrassed the Swiss government, which rushed to issue the emergency decree saying the funds are of criminal origin and should go to aid agencies in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

The government's decision to keep the money blocked is based on an article in the Swiss Constitution giving it the power to issue emergency decrees to protect national interests.

Arcidiacono said it was unclear when the Federal Administrative Court would decide on the latest appeal. But that decision could subsequently be challenged in Switzerland's supreme court, he said.

A draft law that the government said should make it easier for assets belonging to deposed dictators to be repatriated to national governments has been in consultation with cantonal (state) authorities, political parties and interest groups.

The government, which said the new law could work retroactively, has said it wants to avoid Switzerland's serving as a haven for illegally acquired assets.

The current rules only allow Switzerland to return cash when asked by a national government pursuing its own criminal investigation -- a handicap in countries where amnesty laws, corruption or weak legal systems hinder prosecution of past leaders.

Haiti made its first request for the money in 1986, shortly after Duvalier's ouster.

But it has been frozen ever since because Switzerland would not give it back while the Haitian government wasn't pursuing Duvalier under its own justice system. As a way out, the Swiss government had proposed giving the money to aid groups working in Haiti.

Switzerland has traditionally been a favorite location for "potentate" money because of its banking secrecy rules. But reforms over the last two decades have made it harder to hide money in Switzerland, and the country has become a world leader in returning such cash.

Source: BusinessWeek

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