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Terror suspect sues Swiss government

Italian police and journalists in front of the villa of Nada Management in Lugano at the start of the investigation

(Keystone)

The founder of a now-defunct Muslim firm suspected of al-Qaeda links is suing the Federal Prosecutor's Office for financial damages.

Youssef Nada said he was suing because of financial losses incurred resulting from a three-and-a-half year investigation that was dropped exactly one year ago.

"It was all wrong," Nada, the 75-year-old founder and former managing director of Nada Management, formerly known as al-Taqwa, said at his home in Italy near the Swiss border on Thursday. "Switzerland was mistaken and misled."

The Swiss began investigating the company shortly after the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York. The US government says al-Taqwa helped fund Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

But Switzerland was forced to drop the case against top officials of the company on July 1 2005 because they said authorities in the Bahamas had failed to provide essential bank records by a court deadline.

US officials accused al-Taqwa of sending al-Qaeda money through Malta and Switzerland to bank branches in the Bahamas.

Nada confirmed media reports in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino that he was seeking "tens of millions of Swiss francs", but would not specify the exact amount.

Hansjuerg Mark Wiedmer, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in the Swiss capital, Bern, declined to comment on whether a lawsuit had been brought.

No charges

Nada and a Syrian born associate, Ali Himmat, 67, founded al-Taqwa in 1988, according to Swiss officials. The company was based in Ticino until it was liquidated in December 2001, soon after the investigation began.

A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo has said al-Taqwa was set up to provide banking services in Europe according to Islamic principles, which forbids the paying of interest.

The company has been listed by the United States since late 2001 as an organisation accused of helping fund terrorism. Nada, Himmat and three Swiss citizens on al-Taqwa's board were listed individually.

After the publication of the list in 2001, police raided the firm's headquarters in Lugano and hauled away vanloads of documents. They also searched the homes of Nada and Himmat in Italy.

Swiss authorities blocked the accounts of the company and the personal accounts of board members, while neighbouring Liechtenstein froze the accounts of an affiliate firm, the fiduciary company Asat Trust.

But the prosecutor's office never filed charges or made arrests. Company officials have repeatedly denied links to terrorism and accused Swiss authorities of taking part in a US-led anti-Muslim campaign.

Although the prosecutor's office removed its block from the bank accounts of the company and its officers, they remain frozen because of UN sanctions targeting those on the US list.

Court criticism

In May 2005 the Federal Criminal Court ruled that prosecutors should have given further reasons for the allegations made against Lugano-based Nada Management and its director in 2001.

It added that Nada, who had been demanding an end to proceedings since 2002, should have been advised of specific charges.

The court also said there was no reason for the prosecutor's office to have taken so long to decide whether to hand the case over to a tribunal.

It also criticised prosecutors for claiming late in 2004 that they were about to launch judicial proceedings.

The prosecutor's office was ordered to pay SFr3,000 ($2,514) in damages to Nada.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

September 15, 2001: federal prosecutor launches investigation following the attacks in the United States.
October 24, 2001: investigation is extended to include the activities of Nada Management.
November 7, 2001: Swiss police raid the company's premises and seize documents.
May 2004: investigation still in its preliminary phase, with no judicial proceedings launched.
May 2005: Prosecutors are given until the end of the month to decide whether to pursue the case.
June 1, 2005: Prosecutors halt investigation due to lack of evidence.
June 1, 2006: Nada sues Federal Prosecutor's Office for financial damages.

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