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Switzerland extends Mobutu asset freeze

Published on 01/05/2009

GENEVA - Switzerland said Thursday it would freeze for six more months the CHF 7.7 million (EUR 5.1 million, USD 6.7 million) worth of assets belonging to the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his regime.

The government said it extended the freeze, which was due to expire on 30 April, to prevent the Swiss fortune of the former leader of Zaire — now called the Democratic Republic of Congo — from returning to his heirs.

"Without such a delay… the blocked accounts would have risked being emptied by Mobutu’s inheritors from 1 May," the Swiss government said in a statement.

It added that the delay would also allow the Federal Criminal Court to rule on a "citizen’s appeal" filed by Mark Pieth, a criminology professor at Basel University, on Monday.

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, leading the country into a long economic crisis marked by state corruption, excessive luxuries and misuse of funds.

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, which froze the money shortly after Mobutu was forced from power, tried unsuccessfully to contact Mobutu’s heirs to ask them to return their share of the money.

In January, the government in Kinshasa filed a criminal complaint with Switzerland against Mobutu’s regime and his family members, alleging their involvement in a criminal organisation.

AFP / Expatica