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Swiss to return ex-dictator’s assets to Haiti

BERN – The Swiss government is ready to release CHF 7 million (USD 6 million) taken from bank accounts linked to Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, but not back to his family.

The Duvalier family failed to prove that the money is of legitimate origin and are therefore not entitled to the assets, the Federal Office of Justice said Thursday.

The family has 30 days to appeal the decision to Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Tribunal. If there is no appeal or if the tribunal upholds the government’s decision as expected, the money will be released.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said in that case it will select which aid organisations in Haiti would receive the money. The assets "are to be used for social or humanitarian projects to benefit the Haitian population", the justice office said.

Officials with Haiti’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Many in Haiti consider that money stolen from public funds before Duvalier was forced out in 1986. He denied the allegations.

The money, which was frozen since 2002, is in accounts in the names of Duvalier, who is believed to be living in exile in France, and members of his family.

Folco Galli, spokesman of the Federal Office of Justice, said the amount of the assets was around CHF 7 million.

But "since the assets were blocked, nothing has been released", he told The Associated Press. "That’s all the money there is in Switzerland linked to Duvalier".

Swiss aid organisations said Haiti urgently needs the money to bring food and drinking water to hundreds of thousands suffering from the impact of four tropical storms and hurricanes that hit the Caribbean nation in 2008.

Switzerland was traditionally a favorite location for dictators’ money because of its banking secrecy rules. But reforms since the 1990s made it harder to hide money in Switzerland and the country became a world leader in returning such cash.

Switzerland returned the roughly USD 730 million in Swiss accounts linked to the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha to his West African nation.

[AP / Expatica]