Swiss court releases Mobutu money

15th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Assets worth CHF 7.7 million will be returned to the late dictator’s family.

Geneva -- A Swiss court ruled Tuesday that assets of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko frozen in Switzerland and worth CHF 7.7 million (EUR 5.1 million, USD 6.7 million) must be returned to his family.

Criminology professor Mark Pieth from Basel University had brought a "citizen's appeal" to try to extend the freeze on assets of the former dictator of Zaire -- now the Democratic Republic of Congo -- alleging that Mobutu's family were involved in criminal activity.

The federal criminal court in Bellinzone rejected his appeal, saying too much time passed since the Congolese government first made its money-laundering allegations against Mobutu.

Pieth told the ATS news agency that the decision marked a "black day" for the Democratic Republic of Congo and for all those who fought for the return of the funds.

He launched his appeal several days before a Swiss government freeze on the assets was due to expire, fearing the money would be returned to Mobutu's heirs.

Swiss authorities, who have repeatedly blocked the release of the fortune since the fall of the dictator, froze the assets again several days after the appeal was launched.

The funds were blocked by the government in April, until 31 October.

A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman told news agency ATS that it would probably not be possible to keep the assets blocked any longer.

Mobutu's family and the banks involved would be informed, spokesman Adrian Sollberger told the agency.

But he could not give a precise date when the funds would be available and did not say whether they would be released before the government freeze expires on 31 October.

Mobutu came to power in a 1965 coup, five years after the central African nation gained independence from Belgium. He ruled Zaire for 32 years, plunging the country into a long economic crisis marked by state corruption, misuse of funds and excessive luxuries.

He was overthrown in May 1997 by Laurent Kabila, the father of the current president Joseph, and died of cancer a few months later while in exile in Morocco.

Swiss authorities, who froze the money shortly after Mobutu was ousted from power, have tried without success to contact Mobutu's heirs to ask them to relinquish their share of the money.

AFP / Expatica

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