Baby Doc funds frozen for another year

A 1982 photo of Jean-Claude Duvalier AFP

The Swiss government has extended the freeze on bank accounts linked to former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

This content was published on August 22, 2007 - 14:32

Government spokesman Oswald Sigg said on Wednesday that the accounts, said to contain around SFr7.6 million ($6.3 million), would remain blocked for another year.

The funds were due to be released on September 1.

Switzerland had previously blocked the accounts in June for three months, saying it wanted to meet representatives of the Duvalier family and Haitian government in order to find a solution to the matter.

The Swiss government said at that time that it was still its aim to return at least part of the money to the Haitian people.

Duvalier, who now lives in France, and his entourage have been accused by Port-au-Prince of siphoning off more than $100 million from public funds before Duvalier's fall from power in 1986. Duvalier denies the charges.

Part of these funds are alleged to have ended up in Swiss bank accounts.

Marc Henzelin, a Swiss lawyer who is acting on behalf of two Haitians who have been awarded damages by a United States court against Duvalier, told the Swiss news agency that he welcomed the Swiss government's latest decision.

Victims

Henzelin said that the money should be handed back to the victims of Baby Doc's regime.

He added that the government's move coincided with a Geneva court ruling over a UBS account in Geneva. This account contained almost all of the SFr7.6 million, said Henzelin.

The proceedings in Geneva are aimed at recognising a US court ruling from 1988 which awarded the two Haitians - a taxi driver and a priest - damages against Duvalier worth $750,000 and $1 million respectively.

This same US court also awarded a total sum of more than $500 million to "the Haitian people".

The story of the Baby Doc funds in Switzerland has been a long one. A temporary block on the accounts held in Switzerland was imposed by the Swiss government in 2002 to allow more time for claims by Haitian officials and private individuals to be examined in Swiss courts. This was renewed in 2005.

On Wednesday Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat said that this latest freeze would be the last one.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss government tried for years to reach an agreement with the Duvalier family to avoid the embarrassment of handing over money which many in Haiti consider to have been stolen from public funds – allegations Duvalier has always denied.

Switzerland's highest court ruled in 2006 that an indefinite freeze on privately owned funds was unconstitutional. The case involved SFr8 million deposited in Swiss banks by the former Zairean president, Mobutu Sese Seko.

In July Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey said on a visit to sub-Saharan Africa that Switzerland was ready to return the Mobutu funds.

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Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc", was born in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in 1951 and was named president for life in 1971 following the death of his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

A popular uprising forced him into exile in February 1986. He is believed to live in France and reportedly supports himself with handouts from friends. Tens of thousands were killed during the 29-year Duvalier dynasty.

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