Freeze on dictator's assets partially lifted

Mobutu addressing reporters in Kinshasa in 1997 Keystone Archive

The Swiss Federal Court has ordered the partial release of frozen funds belonging to the late dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko.

This content was published on May 24, 2006 - 17:56

Switzerland blocked assets worth around SFr10 million ($8.3 million) in 1997, responding to a request from Zaire, since renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It was announced on Wednesday that the court had ruled in favour of a Swiss businessman, who acted as manager of Mobutu's companies in Switzerland, and awarded him SFr2.35 million for outstanding payments.

A statement said it was justified to lift the freeze and a government order from 2003 without undermining Switzerland's reputation.

The court also criticised the authorities for taking their time handing back the funds.

The foreign ministry said nearly SFr8 million remained blocked in Swiss bank accounts. A spokeswoman added that the Swiss authorities were continuing negotiations with the Congolese government to hand back the Mobutu funds to their rightful owners.

The foreign ministry had argued it was necessary to uphold the freeze to allow the Congolese authorities to "reached an informed decision and enable dialogue with Mobutu's heirs."

Villa on Lake Geneva

Mobutu, who was ousted from office in 1997 after 32 years in power, was forced into exile in Morocco where he died shortly afterwards.

Zaire's new rulers accused him of siphoning off government funds and stashing away assets worth billions of francs in Switzerland.

In response to a request for legal assistance by Kinshasa, the Swiss authorities froze SFr6 million deposited by Mobutu and his family. They also auctioned off Mobutu's villa on Lake Geneva for an additional SFr3.1 million in 2001.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

1997: Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo requests legal assistance from Switzerland to trace alleged assets of toppled dictator Mobutu.
1997: Swiss government freezes assets worth SFr10 million deposited by Mobutu and his family.
2001: Canton Vaud approves claims by Swiss businessman from Mobutu funds for outstanding bills, but government blocks the payout.
2001: Mobutu's villa on Lake Geneva auctioned off for SFr3.1 million.
2003: Government confirms freeze of Mobutu assets.
2006: Federal Court orders partial unfreeze of assets and payment of SFr2.35 million to Swiss businessman.

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