January 31, 2010 / 3:59 PM / 9 years ago

Libya court clears Swiss man of immigration violation

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Libyan court has cleared Swiss businessman Rachid Hamdani of illegally being in the North African country, his lawyer and a spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Hamdani’s case, along with that of countryman Max Goeldi, head of Libya operations for Swiss-Swedish engineering firm ABB, caused a diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland.

It also unsettled foreign investors who flocked to Libya after the oil producer emerged from international isolation.

“I can confirm (Hamdani’s acquittal),” a spokesman for the foreign ministry said. He declined to make any further comments.

Salah Zahaf, the Libyan lawyer representing Hamdani and Goeldi said: “The court ruled that Hamdani is innocent of the charge of entering Libya illegally and has therefore decided to cancel the 16-month sentence.”

But the lawyer said the court had ruled Hamdani still would stand trial on a second charge, of violating business rules.

Hamdani and Goeldi previously had been convicted of violating Libya’s immigration rules and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Earlier, Swiss television reported that Goeldi’s appeal against his immigration conviction had not yet been decided. Like Hamdani, Goeldi also faces trial on the charges of breaking business regulations.

Amnesty International said their earlier convictions did not meet international standards for a fair trial.

The two men were barred from leaving Libya in July 2008 after Swiss prosecutors briefly arrested Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, on charges of mistreating two domestic employees during a visit to Switzerland.

The charges later were dropped but Libya cut oil supplies to Switzerland and withdrew more than $5 billion in assets from Swiss banks. Libyan officials deny any connection between the arrest in Switzerland and the case of the two businessmen.

Additional reporting by Salah Sarrar in Tripoli and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Editing by Michael Roddy

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