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Swiss hostage in Libya freed

Max Göldi starting his four-month sentence in February Keystone

Max Göldi, the Swiss businessman detained in Libya since July 2008, has been released from jail.

This content was published on June 10, 2010 - 20:54

"His physical and mental state is good. He is in a hotel in Tripoli right now and on Saturday we will start making arrangements for an exit visa so he can return home," said his Libyan lawyer, Salah Zahaf, on Thursday evening.

Swiss Foreign Minîster Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is currently in the United States, said she was "very happy". She was expecting Göldi's return to Switzerland in the next few days.

Speaking from New York, Calmy-Rey also thanked "our European Union partners, particularly Spain and Germany, for their support".

Amnesty International, which had sharply criticised Libya, calling Göldi’s sentence politically motivated, confirmed he might be able to get his visa on Saturday.

“He can’t get the necessary papers tomorrow because Friday is a public holiday, but he should be able to get a visa on Saturday,” Manon Schick from the human rights organisation’s Swiss section told the Swiss News Agency.

Göldi’s French lawyer Emmanuel Altit confirmed that his client had left prison.

Göldi had served almost four months in prison and was due to be released on June 12.

Göldi handed himself over to the authorities in February and was taken to prison in handcuffs, thus avoiding escalating a confrontation that had drawn in governments across Europe.

Rachid Hamdani, the other Swiss national who had been held with Göldi, returned to Switzerland in February after receiving documents allowing him to leave the country.

Diplomatic row

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.

Both had faced trials for visa violations and conducting business in the country illegally. Hamdani had been acquitted of the first charge on appeal, and found not guilty of the second. Göldi’s initial sentence of 16 months on the visa charge was reduced to four on appeal. He was fined on the second charge.

On March 1 Göldi received a visit in his Tripoli jail from Hannibal Gaddafi.

"I am honoured that Captain Hannibal came to see me and I hope he can use his influence to help me in my situation," Göldi said.

The Swiss-Libyan diplomatic row became pan-European when Tripoli said it would stop issuing entry visas to most EU citizens in retaliation for a Swiss imposition of visa restrictions on some top Libyans.

Despite the solidarity shown by a group of EU ambassadors at the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, Switzerland ultimately had to comply and hand over Göldi to serve a prison sentence for visa violations.

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.

February 25: Gaddafi calls for jihad against Switzerland, saying it is an infidel country destroying mosques.

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

March 27: Libya lifts a visa ban on citizens of 25 European countries after EU president Spain says a Swiss-instigated visa blacklist against 188 Libyans in those countries is scrapped.

April 13: A Geneva court backs a claim by Hannibal Gaddafi that the publication of leaked police photos of him by a Swiss newspaper infringed his privacy. It also rejects Hannibal's claim for 100,000 Swiss francs ($95,000) in damages.

June 10: Göldi is released, according to his Libyan lawyer Salah Zahaf.

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