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Mobutu assets stay frozen as legalities begin

The Democratic Republic of Congo has taken steps to recover frozen assets of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, days before they were due to be released.

The assets were set to be returned to Mobutu's family on December 15 but Switzerland agreed to keep them frozen for another two months after the Congolese government launched legal proceedings to determine their origin.

The prime minister of Congo confirmed on December 9 his country's wish to recuperate the assets, after Switzerland offered to engage a specialist lawyer.

Switzerland will cover the costs of the court proceedings and legal fees.

Ten years ago Switzerland blocked assets deposited by the late ruler and his family worth around SFr8 million ($6.54 million) in response to a request from the country's government.

The Swiss government has expressed its willingness in the past to return the assets to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Earlier this month the Swiss government announced it was drafting legislation that would make it easier to return money stolen by deposed dictators and deposited in Swiss banks. The foreign ministry said the law would allow countries to retrieve so-called potentate money from accounts even if they were unable to conduct legal proceedings against a former dictator.