GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland has found 360 million Swiss francs ($415.8 million) of potentially illegal assets linked to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his circle stashed in the Alpine country, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
Some 410 million Swiss francs traced to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and 60 million Swiss francs linked to former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have also been identified, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said.
“In the case of Libya, it was 360 million Swiss francs,” Knuchel told Reuters. “These amounts are frozen in Switzerland following blocking orders by the Swiss government related to potentially illegal assets in Switzerland.”
Both Tunisia and Egypt — where unrest led to the ousting of Ben Ali and Mubarak — are in touch with Swiss judicial authorities regarding their formal requests for legal assistance to seek return of the funds and property, according to Knuchel.
No such discussions are underway with authorities in Libya, where Gaddafi is clinging to power in the face of an uprising and NATO air strikes.
Neutral Switzerland had previously announced that it was freezing any assets linked to the three North African leaders, thereby requiring financial and other institutions to report any suspicious funds.
The respective amounts were fairly “stable,” based on information provided by Swiss-based financial institutions to authorities, Knuchel said. He declined to name the banks or the cantons (states) in which the accounts or properties are held.
“We never specify the institutions. It is not just money, there are real estate assets,” he said.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey was shown on Swiss television on Monday night telling a news conference in Tunis after meeting Swiss ambassadors from North Africa and the Middle East meeting in the Tunisian capital: “The funds that Mr. Ben Ali put in Switzerland were not very significant. We did not have very good relations with his regime.”
Libya’s foreign ministry has previously denied that Gaddafi holds bank accounts in Switzerland or in other foreign coffers.
Relations between Switzerland and Libya soured in July 2008 when Geneva police arrested Gaddafi’s son Hannibal on charges of abusing two domestic employees. The charges were later dropped after a confidential settlement negotiated with the victims.
Libya withdrew more than $5 billion from Swiss banks, halted oil exports to Switzerland and barred two Swiss businessmen working in Libya from leaving the country for more than a year.
Swiss authorities also froze assets belonging to Ivory Coast’s now deposed President Laurent Gbagbo in January.
Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten assets.
Its cabinet has previously taken blocked funds in accounts held by deposed strongmen including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, buying time for foreign prosecutors to build a case for restitution of funds.
Knuchel said that Switzerland had returned $800 million, held by Abacha, to Nigeria, although it took some 4-5 years to complete legal proceedings.
“It was a good example of restitution,” he said.
The Swiss Finance Ministry said earlier on Monday it had started proceedings to return assets of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, frozen since 1986, to the Haitian government.