Swiss block Duvalier millions under new law

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Switzerland on Tuesday blocked Haiti ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's frozen Swiss millions under new legislation that came into force on Tuesday to ease their return to the impoverished country.

Dubbed the "Duvalier law", the legislation was rushed through parliament last year to ease the restitution of assets stolen by corrupt or greedy politicians to their home countries.

It was partly prompted by the 25 year legal battle between Swiss authorities and the Duvalier family over some 5.7 million dollars of allegedly embezzled funds.

Those assets have been frozen temporarily in a Swiss bank since Duvalier was ousted.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry confirmed the entry into force of the new law on the restitution of assets of politically exposed persons on its website.

"The Duvalier funds were then blocked under article 14," setting in motion the legal process for seizure, it added.

Duvalier and his followers are accused of plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds during their 15-year reign until "Baby Doc" was ousted in 1986.

But traces of them abroad have evaporated over the decades, leaving the money frozen for more than two decades in a Swiss bank, legal sources believe.

Within 48 hours of Duvalier's unexpected return to the impoverished Caribbean country last month, prosecutors charged him with corruption, embezzlement of public funds and criminal association during his 15 year rule.

The Swiss money is held by the opaque Liechtenstein-based Brouilly foundation in Switzerland, which is tied to the Duvalier family, according to legal sources.

They have repeatedly appealed against successive freezes to try to keep hold of it.

The new law gives the government greater powers to confiscate such assets from Swiss bank accounts and return them even if the country they belong to cannot pursue a court case.

Until now authorities have only had the power to freeze money for a limited period to allow space for attempts to seek restitution through the courts.

But even the Swiss supreme court acknowledged in a ruling on the Duvalier case last year that existing laws were ill suited and too complex for such cases, prompting the legislation that was rushed through parliament last year.

Lawyers acting for the Duvalier family had filed what was believed to be a very final appeal last March against the repeatedly renewed freeze with the Federal Administrative Tribunal.

© 2011 AFP

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