Haiti likely to recover Duvalier's Swiss millions: lawyer

18th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A 25-year legal battle over Haitian ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's Swiss millions should come to an end once new legislation kicks in on February 1, a lawyer for Haiti's government said Tuesday.

The Duvaliers have been fighting to hold on to some 5.7 million dollars of allegedly embezzled funds held by an opaque Liechtenstein-based foundation in Switzerland ever since Swiss authorities froze them after Duvalier was ousted.

But new legislation was rushed through parliament last year to ease the restitution of assets stolen by corrupt or greedy politicians to the concerned countries, partly as a result of the Duvalier saga.

"The Lex Duvalier will be applicable next month and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be applied whether Mr Duvalier is or isn't in Haiti," the lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, told AFP.

Duvalier and his followers were accused of plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds during their 15-year reign until "Baby Doc" was ousted in 1986.

But traces of them abroad have evaporated over the decades, leaving the money frozen for more than two decades in a Swiss bank, legal sources believe.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed in a statement that the federal law on the restitution of illicit assets of "politically exposed persons" will come into force on February 1.

It allows the government to order the confiscation and restitution of such assets from Swiss bank accounts even if the country they belong to cannot pursue a court case.

Until now the Swiss government has only had the power to freeze money for a limited period to allow space for attempts to seek restitution through the courts, a measure it stretched to its very limit with the assets from Haiti.

Last March, lawyers acting for the Duvalier family filed what was believed to be a very final appeal against the repeatedly renewed freeze with the Federal Administrative Tribunal.

Another complex legal battle involving civil lawsuits has also been taking place in a court in the northern city of Basel, legal sources said.

"The legislation will be quicker, the application of the new law will take place much earlier than any court decision could be applied," Monfrini explained.

"In terms of restitution the law shall apply and restitution will take place," he added.

The Swiss foreign ministry declined to comment on its intentions once the new law comes into force.

Meanwhile, officials in Haiti were poised to arrest Duvalier after he returned to the impoverished Caribbean nation on Sunday.

© 2011 AFP

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