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Tunisian legal aid request marks "major step"

Tunisia’s new request for mutual legal assistance marks a key step in the possible return of millions of dollars frozen in Switzerland, says a top Swiss official.

This content was published on October 12, 2011 - 16:43
swissinfo.ch

But considering the normal appeals process, the restitution of SFr60 million ($65 million) belonging to former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his entourage is still far off, said Valentin Zellweger from the Swiss foreign ministry.

The head of the international law section said Tunisia’s request for legal assistance filed last week had been accepted by the Swiss Justice Office and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office had opened criminal investigations in Switzerland, also relating to money laundering.

“We hope that this can bear fruit as quickly as possible, as we have crossed a major step,” Zellweger told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday.

But this is not quite the case with Egypt, he added.

“Egypt has not sent a request for mutual legal assistance that meets Swiss criteria,” said the official. “But these are extremely complex and demand a huge amount of preparation, so it’s not surprising Egypt hasn’t yet submitted one.”

In February, Switzerland froze assets belonging to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his associates worth SFr400 million.

“A huge amount of technical know-how is needed. But I’m confident that we will manage to establish a relationship with Egypt that enables the restitution of funds,” said Zellweger.

“Switzerland is ready to send financial experts and lawyers to help accelerate the procedures.”

Tunisia has hired Geneva lawyer Enrico Monfrini, who has worked on high-profile cases, including former Haitian leader Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier and Nigeria’s former leader General Sani Abacha, to hunt Ben Ali funds worldwide, it was reported on Wednesday. 

According to Monfrini, assets identified and seized so far that allegedly belong to Ben Ali and his clan are just the "tip of the iceberg".

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