Laurent Gbagbo joins Tunisia’s deposed president Ben Ali in losing access to Swiss assets
(Update 15:45 Bern, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Former President Ben Ali of Tunisia, toppled by a popular revolution that forced him to flee the country 14 January, will not be able to touch any assets he may have in Switzerland, effective immediately. The Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is also the foreign affairs minister, made the announcement Wednesday morning 19 January at a press conference.
Ben Ali’s “entourage” is including in the process to block assets, should illicit funds be found.
Ben Ali’s and entourage’s possible real estate: no sales
Real estate sales of any property that may belong to him are blocked as well, to avoid funds leaving the country in order to get around the freeze.
The government did not confirm that Ben Ali actually has assets, whether bank accounts or real estate, although Calmy-Rey says there is evidence that people close to Ben Ali have made several trips to Switzerland in recent months. Bank have been on the alert and closely following events, with a legal obligation to alert the federal government if they noted suspicious account movements.
Switzerland has increased its banking surveillance and more closely tied it to political events in recent years, following problems freezing some dictators’ assets because the government did not move quickly enough or work closely enough with banks.
The president noted that, according to the central bank, some CHF621 million in the country originated in Tunisia, but their ownership is not yet clear.
The Foreign Affairs Department (DFAE) in its announcement says that the measures have been taken to avoid any Tunisian public funds being embezzled. Spokesperson Velentin Zellberger told GenevaLunch that the move gives the new Tunisian government time to follow internatinal procedures in asking Switzerland for judicial assistance if they believe illicit funds have been hidden.
Côte d’Ivoire leader
Calmy-Rey also told journalists that the assets have also been frozen of Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire, who has remained in office despite calls from around the world for him to step down after losing the recent election there. The DFAE has not yet provided details. The Swiss move follows those of the European Community and the US, which have frozen at least some assets reportedly belonging to Gbagbo. Zellberger confirmed to GenevaLunch that in this case, as with Tunisia, the move has been taken as a precautoin, rather than because assets have been found, to give a new government time to ask for judicial assistance from the Swiss if necessary.
Bern is currently working on the list of individuals that will be published, who will not have access to financial accounts or assets in Switzerland.