New law to ease return of illicit funds

The government has moved a step closer to making it easier to return illicitly acquired funds deposited in Switzerland to their country of origin.

This content was published on April 28, 2010 - 15:57 and agencies

A news release from the Swiss foreign ministry on Wednesday said a draft law has been drawn up that will make it possible to use ill-gotten gains for public benefit in the country from which they looted. It is now ready to be submitted to the two chambers of parliament.

The need for a change in the law became evident in connection with Swiss accounts held by the former president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, and the Duvalier family of Haiti. In both cases the countries of origin were unable to meet the legal requirements that would have allowed the Swiss court to return the money to them.

As the law stands currently, money can only be returned if a court in the country of origin decides to institute proceedings.

Switzerland eventually found itself obliged to release the money to the Mobutu family, but the Duvalier money is still blocked in Switzerland pending a change in the law.

The new law will allow the Federal Administrative Court to confiscate frozen assets that have been illicitly acquired if the home country fails to institute proceedings. These assets would then be used to finance programmes to benefit the population there.

The government hopes that the law will come into force speedily, so that the Duvalier case can be resolved. The money would then be used for projects in Haiti.

In the past 15 years Switzerland has returned over SFr1.7 billion ($1.57 billion) misappropriated and deposited in Swiss banks by “politically exposed persons”, including former presidents of Nigeria and the Philippines, and a former head of the Peruvian secret service.

The ministry statement says Switzerland is determined to prevent its financial centre from becoming “a safe haven for the assets of corrupt politicians”, and adds that the country has assumed a “leading role” in this area.

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