Questions remain after Göldi’s return

Max Göldi said he was tired but happy Keystone

Max Göldi, back home after being held in Libya for nearly two years, says he was the victim of a conflict that had nothing to do with him.

This content was published on June 14, 2010 - 19:54

Speaking to journalists in Bern only 13 hours after his return to Swiss soil, he said he was “tired but happy”.

“I spent the past 23 months in a state of great uncertainty and fear,” he said.

He added that he would need some time to get back to normal life, and his family have requested that the media should now leave him alone.

At a separate media conference early on Monday, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy Rey said Göldi’s release was the result of “long negotiations”.

She thanked the European Union for its help, singling out for special praise her Spanish and German counterparts, the king of Spain and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“They never left us in the lurch,” she said. They were there and had helped at the decisive moments, to a much greater extent than could have been expected.

“Switzerland has friends, many, many friends,” she added.

She came out in strong support of Swiss diplomats, who had to work in “extreme conditions”, and said she was “proud of the commitment” of her ministry.

She defended the government’s handling of the case, and its strategy of internationalising the dispute while continuing delicate negotiations.

“It took much longer than expected, but it could have taken much longer still,” she said.

International support

Calmy-Rey, who went to Tripoli late on Saturday with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to bring Göldi home, said uncertainty had reigned “until the last minute”.

Göldi was released from jail on Thursday, after serving a four month sentence for visa violations, but needed an exit visa before he could leave Libya.

She said the presence of Moratinos and Berlusconi, as well as that of a number of high-ranking German and European diplomats had helped put pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to agree to a positive outcome.

Calmy-Rey also thanked her colleague Hans-Rudolf Merz, last year’s Swiss president, who went to Tripoli last August in a failed bid to bring back Göldi and fellow hostage Rachid Hamdani.

“He did a lot. It is very difficult to negotiate with a state that doesn’t operate at all in the same way that we do,” she said.

For his part, Merz “is glad for Max Göldi and his family that he is back in Switzerland,” his spokesman said, adding that he would not make any other statement.

Political questions

While the return of Göldi has naturally been welcomed, the government’s approach to the Libya crisis is to be reviewed by parliamentary committees.

Peter Briner, a member of the control committee of the Senate, told the Swiss News Agency that his committee wanted to see all the relevant cabinet documentation, and would hold hearings with members of the administration and diplomatic corps involved in the affair.

These hearings will last until the autumn, he said.

The foreign policy committee of the House of Representatives will discuss the future of bilateral relations with Libya, said its chairwoman, Christa Markwalder

A number of political parties have criticised the handling of the Libyan affair.

Martin Baltisser, secretary-general of the rightwing People’s Party said the government must acknowledge its mistakes. The party blamed Calmy-Rey and Merz for the “failure” of the diplomatic path chosen by Switzerland.

Conservative Democratic Party president Hans Grunder criticised the “solo actions” of members of the government, and the Greens have called for an examination of the role played by the foreign ministry and by Göldi’s employer, engineering giant ABB.

The centre-right Radical Party, to which Merz belongs, believe that Calmy-Rey, a member of the centre-left Social Democrat party, and her department are mainly responsible.

However, the secretary-general of the centre-right Christian Democrats, Tim Frey, pointed out that “many countries” have had “problems” with Libya.

Plan of action

None of the parties are currently calling for a suspension of diplomatic relations with Libya, but are waiting to see what transpires from the “plan of action” signed between the two sides in Tripoli on Sunday.

The plan outlines ways for two countries to “solve their bilateral problems expeditiously and in a constructive spirit.”

In particular it includes an agreement to set up an arbitration tribunal to examine the circumstances of the brief detention in Geneva of Gaddafi’s son, Hannibal, in July 2008, which triggered the crisis.

It also states that if the person responsible for leaking police photos of Hannibal to a Geneva newspaper is not found, the Swiss government will pay compensation “in an amount agreed to by both parties”.

However, a claim by Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa that Switzerland has already paid €1.5 million (SFr2 million) in compensation has been denied by both Calmy-Rey and the government of Geneva.


The release of Göldi has been welcomed by Switzerland’s partners.

In a communiqué German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed his satisfaction, and hoped that Göldi’s return would reduce tension between the two countries.

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, described the release as “good news” and thanked Moratinos for the role he had played.

Göldi’s employer, ABB, issued a statement thanking the “Swiss government, the European Union, including Spain and Germany, and a number of governments for their efforts to bring this matter to closure”. and agencies

Time Line

July 15, 2008: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife are arrested and charged with abusing their staff. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland. The servants are later compensated and charges withdrawn.

July: Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are arrested as part of several anti-Swiss measures

January 2009: A diplomatic delegation travels to Tripoli.

May: Swiss foreign minister visits Libya.

June: Libya withdraws most assets from Swiss bank accounts.

August: The Swiss president apologises in Tripoli for the arrest.

October: A 60-day limit for normalising relations passes.

November: Swiss ministers say they will pursue visa restrictions for Libyans. On November 30 Göldi and Hamdani sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined for visa violations.

January 2010: Their terms are overturned and cut.

February 14: A Libyan newspaper reports Switzerland has drawn up a blacklist of 188 top Libyans.

February 15: Libya stops issuing visas to citizens of nations in the Schengen zone.

February 22: Göldi ordered to report to prison. Hamdani obtains an exit visa.

March 3: Libya declares a trade and economic embargo of Switzerland.

March 27: Libya lifts its visa ban on Schengen citizens after EU president Spain says the visa blacklist against 188Libyans has been scrapped.

April 13: A Geneva court backs a claim by Hannibal Gaddafi that the publication of leaked police photos infringed his privacy, but rejects his claim for SFr100,000 ($95,000) in damages.

June 10: Göldi is released from jail and moves to a Tripoli hotel.

June 12: Swiss and Spanish foreign ministers travel to Tripoli.

June 14: Göldi arrives back in Switzerland.

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