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Italy proposes mediator role in Libya conflict

Franco Frattini is one of several European foreign ministers Calmy-Rey is meeting to explain Swiss banking secrecy Keystone

Italy has offered to moderate talks between Switzerland and Libya, still under strain since the arrest of one of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's sons last year.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, that the country was “ready to take on the role” of mediator based on its relationship with the oil-producing North African state.

Calmy-Rey on Monday rejected the idea of paying compensation to Libya for the arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi last July and insisted that authorities had acted correctly.

Hannibal, Muammar Gaddafi’s fifth-eldest son, was detained along with his pregnant wife in Geneva after complaints of mistreatment made by domestic staff.

Libya demanded an apology for the arrest and imposed economic measures against Switzerland, including closing Swiss companies and stopping flights.

The Swiss authorities have ruled out an apology and stressed they acted with the law. A senior foreign ministry official has said negotiations so far have been difficult but that dialogue will continue.

In late January, Calmy-Rey met with Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, a brother of Hannibal, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual summit in Davos.

Diplomatic push

Calmy-Rey’s Monday meeting in Rome was part of a diplomatic offensive by Switzerland in the lead-up to the G20 summit of the world’s biggest economies, being held in London in April.

Switzerland has not been invited to attend the gathering and Calmy-Rey will meet several European foreign ministers in the hope of conveying Switzerland’s position on tax treaties and the exchange of bank data.

Italy will be one of the first countries Switzerland will sit with to renegotiate tax treaties, she said.

Frattini said he considered the Swiss government’s decision on March 13 to increase international cooperation on tax evasion an “important step”. He welcomed also the abolition of the distinction between fraud and evasion tax treatment for foreign nationals.

Concrete action

Frattini called for concrete action in the form of a revision of the double taxation agreement, in accordance international standards of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Calmy-Rey argued that Switzerland was not a tax haven and said the country’s rules covering money laundering were severe.

The meeting in Rome also included discussions on energy and transportation issues.

Calmy-Rey will meet with cantonal officials in Ticino on Tuesday to debrief them on the visit.

The meeting in Rome was a follow-up to talks in Paris on March 18. Calmy-Rey will be in Berlin on April 1.

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Italy is Switzerland’s second largest trading partner and its third-largest export market, with 9% of Swiss exports destined for the neighbouring country.

During the first two months of 2009, imports from Italy amounted to about SFr2.8 billion.

According to data from 2007, about 42,000 workers cross the Swiss border from Italy each day to work in Ticino.

Italy is home to the fourth largest Swiss community abroad, after those of France, Germany and the United States.

There were 48,147 Swiss living in Italy in 2008, according to data from the Federal Statistics Office. Of these, 37,941 were dual citizens. More than 24,000 Swiss nationals are registered with the consulate in Milan.

Four of the 15 Swiss schools abroad are in Italy: Bergamo, Milan, Rome and Catania.

Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were charged by a magistrate in July with inflicting physical injuries and using threats and force against two of their staff.

The two domestic employees who lodged a formal complaint said they were beaten and Gaddafi’s wife poured boiling water over them.

The Gaddafi couple denied the charges and the workers later withdraw their complaint after reaching a financial arrangement with Hannibal, ending the legal process.

The Gaddafi family described the arrest of Hannibal as an act of anti-Arab racism.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR