By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
The Federal Council has decided to extend by one year the freezing of all the assets in Switzerland of ousted presidents Ben Ali (Tunisia), Mubarak (Egypt) and Yanukovych (Ukraine) as well as of politically exposed members of their entourages and other persons closely associated with them.
At its session on 9 December 2016 the Council said the aim of this decision is to give more time for the criminal investigations under way and to support judicial cooperation with the countries concerned. It also takes into account the political changes taking place in these countries.
In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, at the beginning of 2011 the Federal Council ordered the preventive freezing for a period of three years of all the assets in Switzerland of ousted presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak as well as of politically exposed persons in their entourages and other persons closely associated with them.
It subsequently extended this measure by three years, as a result of which the freeze on the Tunisian assets expires in January 2017 and that on the assets from Egypt in February 2017.
In the case of Tunisia, assets amounting to approximately CHF 60 million have been frozen. In the case of Egypt, assets amounting to some CHF 570 million are involved.
The Federal Act on the Freezing and the Restitution of Illicit Assets held by Foreign Politically Exposed Persons came into force on 1 July 2016 and governs the duration of freezes and extensions to them.
It is possible to extend an asset freeze by one year if the state of origin expresses its willingness to cooperate within the framework of mutual legal assistance. A freeze can be extended on this basis for a maximum of ten years.
Almost six years after the entry into force of freezes on assets from Tunisia and Egypt, a considerable number of proceedings have been initiated against the main protagonists, and the authorities of these countries have expressed their wish to cooperate with Switzerland in the context of mutual legal assistance.
However, establishing the illicit origin of frozen assets requires either confiscatory jugdments or settlement agreements sanctioned by the judicial authorities of the countries concerned.
The Federal Council’s decision to extend the freezing of assets is warranted because the objective has not yet been fully met. This one-year extension is expected to yield tangible progress in pending proceedings and make it clearer whether the assets in question are likely to be returned.
In the case of Ukraine the situation is different because the initial freeze took place more recently. It was ordered by the Federal Council in 2014 for a period of three years, which means that it expires for the first time in February 2017.
Assets amounting to approximately CHF 70 million are involved. Criminal investigations have also been initiated against a large number of individuals targeted by this measure and several requests for mutual legal assistance have been addressed to Switzerland.
Although these requests have resulted in significant interim findings, more time is needed to enable the ongoing criminal proceedings to be concluded. The freeze imposed by the Federal Council therefore fulfils its purpose in every sense, which suggests that it will be prolonged for a further year.
Shortly before the three freezes expire at the beginning of 2018, the Federal Council will re-evaluate the situation in each of the three countries concerned. It will then decide whether the freezes on these assets will be prolonged on the basis of the progress made in the respective legal proceedings.
Meanwhile, as the world celebrates International Human Rights Day, the European Union Delegation to Liberia has announced support for two new projects to improve conditions in prisons in Liberia funded through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Speaking about the decision to fund these projects, European Union Ambassador Tiina Intelmann said “Human rights apply to everyone, including prisoners. For the European Union, standing up for someone’s rights means not just speaking out, but taking action to change things.
Permanent solutions to the challenges facing Liberia’s criminal justice system will take time, but the European Union believes there are practical steps that can be taken now to improve conditions for prisoners.”
The projects, which will start in January, will cover six counties. One project will be implemented by FinnChurchAid, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and the Rural Human Rights Activists Programme (RHRAP) in Lofa, Bong and Nimba.
The other will be implemented by the International Federation of Christians against Torture, and their local partner Association of Christians Against Torture (ACAT), and will be implemented in Bomi, Montserrado and Margibi. European Union funding will be EURO 500 000 (approx. USD 530 000) and EURO 426 500 (approx. USD 453 000) respectively.
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