Update: 17.07.2009

Clearence of Mobutu Assests Shows Swiss Need to Legislation Change

The Federal Criminal Court has ruled on 14 July 2009, that Switzerland must hand over 7.7 million francs to the family of Zaire’s former president, Mobutu Sese Seko. The decision was announced by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, which deplored "this outcome, and ends 12 years of freezing the assets in which all option to com to a fair solution were attempted". Switzerland blocked assets deposited by Mobutu and his clan in 1997 following a request from the country's government. The coalition of non-governmental organisations, including the Bern Declaration, have condemned the release of the assets as a backward step for Switzerland.

Legislation needed

In 2008, Swiss authorities agreed to keep the assets frozen so that a Congolese government lawyer could initiate proceedings in Switzerland to block the assets and enable the competent legal authority to decide how to deal with the case. But in April this year, the Swiss Prosecutor's Office said the statute of limitations had run out in the case and the assets should therefore be handed over to Mobutu's heirs. The foreign ministry said the requirement finally to make restitution to the Mobutu assets underlined the need to adapt Swiss legislation to prevent similar cases from recurring.

The foreign ministry was instructed by the Federal Council on 5 December, 2008 to draft a law making it possible to confiscate and to return illicit assets of so-called politically exposed persons. This legislation is now being drafted and a bill should be ready by next year.

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