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Cabinet drafts unique law on dictators’ assets

Funds belonging to Tunisia's deposed president Ben-Ali have been blocked in Switzerland Keystone

Cabinet has presented a draft bill setting the rules for the freezing and restoring of assets obtained illegally by foreign dictators and deposited in Switzerland. If approved by parliament, it will be the first law of its kind in the world.

The draft provides for the preventive freezing of the assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs), according to cabinet statement published on Wednesday. It also establishes procedures for the administrative confiscation and the restitution of potentates’ assets.

It would allow the Swiss foreign ministry to provide banking information to other states trying to file a request for legal assistance.

The statement adds that the new law was aimed at streamlining the identification of asset holders and returning stolen funds.

“The problems of potentates’ assets have been drawing increasing international attention over the last couple of decades. Switzerland has repeatedly been confronted with this type of case and has earned a worldwide reputation as a pioneer in this area,” the statement says.

Until now, the cabinet has based its decisions to prevent the flight of illegal funds on constitutional powers alone.

The draft proposal will now be submitted to interested parties and organisations for consultation until September. The cabinet will then draw up a final draft for parliament to debate.

Arab Spring fallout

Over the past 25 years, Switzerland has restituted CHF1.7 billion ($1.8 billion) in funds embezzled by dictators to their countries of origin. These include Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Sani Abacha of Nigeria  and Vladimiro Montesinos of Peru.

The cabinet statement adds that Switzerland adopted a separate law on the restitution of assets of PEPs obtained by unlawful means. These provisions apply in cases where the requesting state has failed to provide sufficient legal documents to have the assets restituted.

In early 2011, the cabinet froze the assets held in Switzerland by the deposed presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, respectively.

The proposed new law will include all existing regulations, according to the cabinet statement, and is intended to provide a blueprint for other countries.

“Switzerland is working at the international level to promote closer cooperation between financial centres and the countries of origin. The focus is on making the restitution of stolen assets more efficient,” the statement read.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR