Merz: Easier legal path with Libya

3rd December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Swiss President hinted Wednesday that a Libyan court ruling might make it easier to resolve a diplomatic dispute.

Geneva -- Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz hinted Wednesday that a Libyan court ruling on two Swiss businessmen kept in Libya for 16 months in a diplomatic spat might make it easier to resolve the standoff.

Swiss officials have always felt that the plight of the two, which stemmed from the arrest in Geneva in 2008 of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son, was largely determined by arbitrary measures.

But Merz, who unsuccessfully sought a political deal with the Libyan government in the summer, said in a radio interview that the sentencing by a court on Tuesday introduced a more tangible legal charge.

The rule of law "introduces an obligation and always opens ways of ending an arrest or a judicial procedure with judicial means, and that wasn't the case until now," Merz told Swiss radio RSR.

Libya sentenced the two Swiss businessmen to a 16-month prison sentence and a fine of LYD 2,000 (EUR 1,100) each for overstaying their visas, a Libyan justice official said Tuesday.

However, some Swiss parliamentarians said the sentence appeared harsh.

Luc Barthassat, a member of a parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said the measure appeared to be "retaliation" for Sunday's referendum vote in Switzerland banning minarets on mosques.

"There's absolutely no doubt about that," he told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

However, Merz played down the impact.

The two Swiss citizens "have been charged for a long time, it's a political matter and not a religious one," he said.

Max Goldi, a senior manager at the Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB, and fellow Swiss Rashid Hamdani, who works for a small construction firm, were detained in Libya after Kadhafi's son Hannibal and his wife were briefly arrested in Geneva in July 2008.

While Tripoli imposed sanctions on Swiss business ties, it also denied the men exit visas and charged them with alleged immigration offences. They were later released on bail and allowed to stay at the Swiss embassy.

Despite Merz's controversial apology over Hannibal Kadhafi's arrest, the row escalated in September after the two were invited out of the embassy and detained under house arrest for about a month.

The two, who are still in the embassy, will be able to appeal but face a further trial for alleged tax offences, Libyan officials have said.

AFP / Expatica

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