Swiss prosecutors are examining allegations that the Eritrean consular authorities in Switzerland are illegally levying a tax on the earnings of Eritreans abroad. This follows a complaint filed by the Federal Office of Police that has been investigating the affair for several months.
“According to the official complaint, taxes were levied or demanded from Eritrean citizens in Switzerland,” André Marty spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General told Swiss public radio, SRF, on Tuesday.
Confirmation of the attorney general’s investigation comes after various news reports and statements by politicians and Federal Police Office director Nicoletta della Valle on the controversial tax issue.
According to an NZZ am Sonntag report in December 2014, the Eritrean consulate in Geneva makes refugees sign a “letter of regret” saying that they haven’t completed their national service – a crime with a prison sentence of two to five years. Eritreans in Switzerland also have to pay a 2% income tax to the Eritrean regime.
Marty said the Federal Office of Police has investigated these allegations for over a year and interviewed Eritrean diplomats.
He said it would now be determined whether these entail “illegal dealings by a foreign state on Swiss territory”.
But he added that proving such activities was extremely difficult and it remains up to federal lawyers to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to bring a case.
“The hurdles are very high,” he added.
In August, Della Valle referred to the ongoing investigations stating: “We need witnesses who are prepared to work with the police and ready to make statements.”
According to last year’s NZZ am Sonntag article, 90% of Eritreans in Switzerland receive welfare payments, and they end up using those resources to satisfy the consulate in Geneva. If the refugees don’t sign the regret letters or pay the income tax, they can’t return to Eritrea. However, people who have applied for asylum in Switzerland are not allowed to return to the country that they’re fleeing – otherwise they lose their status as asylum seekers.
In August, centre-right Radical Party President Philipp Müller called for the Eritrean consulate in Geneva to be closed.
swissinfo.ch with agencies