February 11, 2010 / 3:22 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 3-Libyan court cuts jail term for Swiss businessman

* Lawyer says hopes prosecutors will waive rest of sentence

* Second Swiss man could get passport back on Thursday

* Case has been at centre of Swiss-Libya diplomatic row (Updates with Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman)

By Salah Sarrar

TRIPOLI, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A Libyan appeal court on Thursday reduced a jail sentence handed down on Swiss businessman Max Goeldi for visa offences to four months from 16 months, his lawyer said.

A second Swiss man who had earlier been cleared of the charges against him, Rachid Hamdani, was likely to have his passport returned on Thursday so he could return home, said lawyer Salah Zahaf, who represents both men.

Zahaf said he hoped that Libya’s Prosecutor General would choose not to implement Goeldi’s reduced prison sentence and instead allow him to return home too.

The two men have for the past 18 months been at the centre of a tense diplomatic dispute between Switzerland and oil exporter Libya.

Goeldi and Hamdani have been held in the north African country since July 2008 following the arrest in Geneva of a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on charges — later dropped — of mistreating two domestic employees.

The Libyan government has denied the cases of the two Swiss men are linked to the arrest in Geneva.

“The verdict (on Goeldi) has been amended from 16 to four months,” Zahaf said after an appeal court heard the case.

“According to Libyan law, the Prosecutor General is in charge of implementing the sentence. However, he can take into consideration political factors, so let’s wait for the decision of the Prosecutor-General. It will be next week.”

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel also said that Goeldi’s sentence had been reduced to four months on appeal, but said he had no further comment.

Hamdani, who was working for a construction firm in Libya, has been cleared of immigration offences and violating business regulations but was waiting to hear if prosecutors would appeal against the court’s ruling.

Both he and Goeldi have been staying at the Swiss embassy in Tripoli.

“With regard to Hamdani, there has been no appeal. I think he will get his visa back today so he can go back home,” Zahaf said.

Ties between Libya and Switzerland hit a low-point in August last year when Switzerland’s president apologized in Tripoli for Hannibal Gaddafi’s arrest but failed to secure the release of the two businessmen.

Goeldi, a manager for Swiss-Swedish engineering firm ABB ABBN.VX, was already fined about $800 for violating business rules.

For a TIMELINE on Swiss-Libyan relations, double-click on [ID:nLDE6160G7]

Additional reporting by Lamine Chikhi in Algiers and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer and Christian Lowe; editing by Myra MacDonald

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