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Swiss hostages face tax and visa charges

Libya is charging two Swiss businessmen detained in the country for over a year with tax evasion and failing to follow visa regulations.

At a news conference on Thursday Libya's foreign ministry announced that the two men, Rachid Hamdani and Max Göldi, would be charged and tried "by the end of the year".

The men were first detained in Tripoli in July 2008, days after the arrest of the Libyan leader's son Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife Aline on charges of mistreating their servants.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaïm said the case of the two Swiss had nothing to do with the arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi and said the pair had entered Libya on tourist visas, now expired, but had been involved in business dealings during their stay.

Libya also criticised "systematic solidarity" for Bern by European countries in imposing Schengen area visa restrictions on Libyans. A spokesman said Libya had protested to European ambassadors and threatened to respond in kind if the measure continued.

One of the first things the men are going to have to do is move out of the Swiss embassy. Libyan law requires defendants to have an address, and while the men are staying in the embassy, they are out of reach of Libyan justice.

Hamdani and Göldi were held for ten days in a Libyan jail and then released and allowed some freedom of movement. In September this year they were lured from the embassy in an action which the Swiss foreign ministry described as "kidnapping" and kept in a secret location for several weeks, before being returned to the embassy on Monday.

President Hans-Rudolf Merz flew to Tripoli in August and apologised for Hannibal's arrest – triggering a storm of protest at home – but contrary to his expectations, the men were not allowed to return to Switzerland.

After months of quiet diplomacy, Switzerland recently changed tack and announced it was suspending the agreement Merz had signed during his visit and that Libyan citizens could face visa restrictions.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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