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Ministers discuss frozen Ben Ali clan funds

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis says a “positive outcome” is expected by 2021 concerning the return of funds linked to former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family, which are frozen in Switzerland.

But for significant amounts to be returned, legal proceedings in Tunisia must progress and result in judgments demonstrating the illicit origin of the assets, Cassis told reporters on Thursday following talks in Bern with his Tunisian counterpart Khemaies Jhinaoui.

In early 2011, the Swiss government froze CHF60 million ($60 million) in assets held in Switzerland by the deposed President Ben Ali and his entourage in response to political events in North Africa – the Arab Spring. The aim was to prevent the possible flight of capital that was suspected of having been illicitly acquired, and to thereby facilitate judicial cooperation with Tunisia. Since then, criminal investigations have been opened in both countries.

Since 2011, Switzerland has extended the freezing of the funds. Last December, it prolonged their seizure for another year. Part of the funds (CHF250,000) was returned in 2016 and CHF3.5 million in 2017.

The administrative procedures are continuing for the return of the funds, which Jhinaoui said Tunisia wished to “accelerate”. Cassis said a positive outcome was expected by 2021.

During the one-day talks, the two ministers also covered various aspects of international development cooperation and signed a declaration of intent. Switzerland has established a cooperation strategy with Tunisia, focusing on democratic transition, economic development and protection and migration. For 2019, Switzerland’s overseas development budget for Tunisia is around CHF20 million.

Cassis praised the migration partnership between the two countries, in particular in the areas of return assistance and reintegration. The two ministers also discussed the need to boost bilateral trade. The Swiss minister also announced the launch of a programme to support culture in North Africa, which will be implemented in collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.


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