The assets of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier blocked in Switzerland could be returned to the Haitian authorities after a new Swiss law takes effect.
"Baby Doc" Duvalier, a once feared and reviled dictator who was ousted in a popular uprising nearly 25 years ago, made a surprise return to Haiti on Sunday.
Swiss bank accounts containing some SFr6 million ($6.2 million) linked to the former Haitian dictator have been frozen since 1986.
In February 2010 the Swiss government issued an emergency decree to keep the money blocked until a new dictator-assets law could be published. The government decree was a reaction to the country's top court ruling in January 2010 that the money must be returned to Duvalier's family because the statute of limitations had expired.
The new law on returning illicit dictator funds, backed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, is due to enter into force on February 1, 2011.
Under the law, the cabinet can block contentious assets and will have up to ten years to launch action to confiscate the assets once they have been blocked. The confiscation of assets must be declared by the Federal Administrative Court.
“It would be unfortunate if there is a problem with the return of the Duvalier funds as this law was tailor-made for such a case,” Olivier Longchamp, a legal expert at the Swiss non-governmental organisation, Berne Declaration, told swissinfo.ch.
Once returned, the funds must be used to improve quality of life for the wider population, strengthening the judicial system and the fight against crime.
An appeal by Duvalier’s relatives last March over the freezing of the assets is still pending, Andrea Arcidiacono, a spokesman for the Federal Administrative Court, confirmed to swissinfo.ch. It is unclear what impact this will have on any confiscation procedure.
Duvalier made a surprise return from exile to Haiti on Sunday, saying he wanted to help in the rebuilding of the earthquake-battered nation.