December 18, 2009 / 5:13 PM / 9 years ago

Swiss to face weekend trial in Libya, Amnesty says

* Two Swiss held since July 2008 face fresh economic charges

* Weekend trials to follow 16-month prison sentences

* Amnesty International has denounced first trial as “unfair”

GENEVA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Two Swiss businessmen already sentenced to 16 months in prison in Libya for immigration offences face trials this weekend on charges of illegal economic activity, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The two men were denied permission to leave Libya in July 2008 after the arrest in Geneva of a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on charges — which were later dropped — of mistreating two domestic employees.

“According to information we have from their lawyer and families, one of the Swiss will be tried on Saturday and the other on Sunday for a second accusation, illegal economic activities and tax fraud,” Manon Schick of Amnesty International’s Swiss section told Reuters.

She added: “We hope the second trial this weekend will be fair, but it is not looking good. They have not received written notification of the charges and can’t prepare their defence.”

Rachid Hamdani, a construction company employee, and Max Goeldi, the Libya head of Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering group ABB, were sentenced on Nov. 30 to 16 months in prison for immigration offences.

Amnesty International has denounced that trial as unfair, saying it failed to meet international norms and was “motivated by political reasons”.

Their lawyer was not allowed to present a defence or have access to the file, according to the London-based rights group.

The men’s appeal against the immigration charges is to be held on Dec. 22, Schick said.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said that the two men were still in the Swiss embassy in Tripoli but declined to comment on a second trial — which a judicial source in Libya has said was expected this month.

“We are in touch with their families and are continuing to coordinate the situation,” Knuchel told Reuters from Berne.

Their cases have sparked criticism within Switzerland that the Swiss government has mishandled the affair and have also unsettled some of the foreign investors who are flocking in growing numbers to Libya’s buoyant economy.

Libyan officials deny any connection between the arrest of Gaddafi’s son and the case of the two businessmen.

Under a solidarity campaign launched by Amnesty International, the two men received some 500 cards and letters from the Swiss public on Thursday, according to Schick.

“Thousands of cards are on their way to Tripoli,” she said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

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