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Switzerland denies being soft on al-Qaeda

The former al-Taqwa Management Organization worked out of this building in Lugano

(Keystone)

Switzerland has defended its anti-terrorism record at the United Nations after being accused of not implementing sanctions properly against al-Qaeda.

A UN report criticised the Swiss for failing to prevent financial and material support from reaching Osama bin Laden’s network and Afghanistan’s Taliban.

An independent group overseeing sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban released a report earlier this month which included claims that Switzerland had been soft in its application of restrictions.

UN observers said Switzerland had served as a conduit for “limited weapons smuggling”.

The panel also said financial support for the two groups was transiting via Switzerland.

Pierre Helg, a Swiss diplomat, told the UN’s sanctions committee on Monday that the government was surprised by the accusation, adding that it had no factual basis.

Financial concerns

The report highlighted the activities of two Swiss-based businessmen: Youssef Nada, an Egyptian described by the United States Treasury as a "terrorist financier"; and Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, a construction magnate of Ethiopian descent.

Nada is the director of Nada Management, formerly known as al-Taqwa, a company based in canton Ticino that has been under investigation by the Swiss prosecutor’s office for the past two years.

Both men have been accused by US investigators of ties to Islamic charities and businesses linked to the financing of al-Qaeda.

The report said the two were continuing to maintain commercial interests and properties in Italy and Switzerland, despite the fact that their names were on UN and other global blacklists.

However, Helg told the UN panel he had no knowledge that Nada owned the assets referred to in the report.

Travel restrictions

The report also claimed Switzerland was failing to enforce travel bans.

The panel said Nada travelled in January from Campione d'Italia, an Italian enclave in Ticino, to Liechtenstein, where some of his offshore companies are registered. The principality has no border checks with Switzerland.

There he tried to change the names of two of his companies, but Liechtenstein blocked the move after UN sanctions investigators intervened.

The panel's report said local authorities in Europe had no idea of the whereabouts of the two men. Nada and Nasreddin have denied any wrongdoing or links to al-Qaeda.

Switzerland has frozen assets linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban worth SFr34 million ($25 million) since September 2001.

But the authorities have admitted that blocking financial assets may not be enough in the fight against terrorism.

Last month, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, anticipating the UN report, recommended seizing property belonging to people suspected of terrorist links. Currently, only bank accounts can be frozen.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

A UN report has accused Switzerland of being soft in applying sanctions against the al-Qaeda network and Afghanistan's Taliban.

The UN's sanctions' observers said Switzerland was serving as a conduit for limited weapons smuggling and that financial support for the two groups was transiting via Swiss-based institutions.

Swiss diplomats told the organisation's sanctions' committee there was no factual basis for the weapons claim.

There is apparently also no reason to believe suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban financiers have assets such as property in Switzerland.

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