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Swiss businessman allowed to leave Libya

Several dozen officers formed a ring around the Swiss embassy where the pair had taken refuge for several months

(AFP)

One of two Swiss nationals held in Libya for the past 18 months will leave the country on Monday. Tripoli says the other must serve out a sentence.

Rachid Hamdani, a businessman held since July 2008, exited the Swiss embassy’s compound in Tripoli shortly before 12pm local time before receiving documents allowing him to leave the country.

He will travel to Tunisia, said Salah Zahaf, the lawyer for both men.

The other Swiss, Max Göldi is said to be still inside. Zahaf said on Monday Göldi would report to prison to begin serving a four-month sentence for immigration violations.

Libyan security forces surrounded the Swiss embassy in Tripoli after issuing an ultimatum for Switzerland to hand Göldi over. Several dozen officers had formed a ring around the building where he and Hamdani had taken refuge for several months.

Göldi was to be handed over by midday. Hamdani's conviction was overturned on appeal in January.

The case of the two men has been at the centre of a fierce diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland that escalated last week when Tripoli stopped issuing visas to citizens of most European countries.

“We continue to try and find a solution. It is moreover the responsibility of the guest country to guarantee the security of foreign representations,” the Swiss foreign ministry said.

Ultimatum

On Sunday night, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa summoned European Union ambassadors to hand them the ultimatum on Göldi.

"No embassy should become a haven from justice," Koussa told the Associated Press late on Sunday. "I hope this will not force us to adopt other measures."

No details were given of what action the Libyan authorities plan to take.

The diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland stems from the 2008 arrest of one of leader Moammar Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva.

The Libyans had prevented both Swiss nationals from leaving the country since July 2008. Göldi’s lawyer said he would apply to Libya’s top judicial officials for clemency.

Human rights

Human rights groups have sharply criticised Libya, calling Göldi’s sentence politically motivated.

“Although Libya says it is a judicial matter, the crisis must be resolved by diplomacy,” said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The Ain Zara prison where Goldi is to carry out his sentence is notorious for the arbitrary detention of political opponents, HRW reported last December.

The group says that one of the prison’s two wings is controlled by Libya’s state security service, which is outside the influence of the justice ministry.

Göldi will reportedly be placed in the other wing, and his lawyer said on Monday he would be able to visit him at any time, and that he would have access to medical care.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

Timeline

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. Swiss businesses are forced to shut their offices and the number of flights to Tripoli is cut.

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.

September: Göldi and Hamdani cannot leave the country despite a promise they would be freed by September 1.They disappear after undergoing a medical check-up in Tripoli.

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 17-18: Swiss, Libyan, Italian, Spanish and Maltese foreign ministers try to hammer out a solution.

February 22: Göldi ordered to report to prison. Libya says it will retalitate if Switzerland does not hand him over. Hamdani obtains an exit visa.

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