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Emirates sheik tried on assault charges in Switzerland

Published on 20/06/2008

20 June 2008

SWITZERLAND – Geneva’s chief prosecutor argued Thursday that a brother of the United Arab Emirates’ ruler should receive the maximum penalty on a charge of assaulting an American man with his belt in a luxury hotel bar.

Silvano Orsi, a resident of Rochester, New York, says Sheik Falah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan hit him repeatedly with a belt with a steel buckle after Orsi declined a bottle of champagne from the sheik.

The sheik and his lawyer deny the charges.

Defense lawyer Marco Crisante told the court that Orsi’s legal complaint was full of lies meant to pressure the sheik for money.

Geneva’s chief prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli, said that the defendant should be given the maximum penalty of more than more than 1 million CHF (960,000 USD; 620,000 EUR) for the incident in the bar of Geneva’s La Reserve Hotel.

Zappelli said the case “is in no way different from a case of a common delinquent.”

Orsi said that after he refused the champagne the sheik, whom he had never met, came up behind him, jostled his glasses, sat in his lap and tried to kiss and fondle him. When Orsi protested, the assault began, he said.

The sheik says the men got into a heated argument after he overheard someone call him gay and acknowledged that he pulled his belt from his trousers, but insists he never struck Orsi.

Crisante said security officers intervened and prevented the sheik from whipping Orsi, who angered the sheik by calling him gay during the August 2003 incident.

“For a Muslim this is an insult,” he said, adding that his client was not homosexual. “Mr. Orsi has used all means in his power for the sole purpose of extracting a maximum amount of money from the sheik,” Crisante said. “This case could be titled ‘How to make an ocean from a drop of water.”‘

The sheik was absent from the one-day trial Thursday, as is permitted under Swiss law.

The prosecutor accused the sheik of attacking and injuring Orsi, who also holds Italian citizenship, by hitting him in the face, shoulder and body with the belt until people accompanying the sheik stopped him.

Two former hotel employees also testified they saw the sheik whip Orsi with the belt.

Orsi told the court, “I didn’t even know it was the sheik at that time. He was dressed in shirt and jeans.”

Zappelli said Orsi’s injuries and post-traumatic shock left him incapable of working.

The sheik is a brother of Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was appointed president of the United Arab Emirates in 2004 after the death of their father, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Orsi said the sheik’s aides had offered him a 10,000 EUR (15,500 USD) compensation to prevent him from filing a complaint. He said he refused the money and was threatened by the sheik’s employees.

Lawyers said it could take weeks or months for the three judges in the case to issue a verdict.

By Eliane Engeler