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Swiss hold $1 billion Arab Spring 'dictator' funds

JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press
Tuesday, 16 Oct 2012 | 8:35 AM ET

GENEVA -- Switzerland has blocked almost 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.03 billion) linked to rulers in four Arab Spring nations, a senior government official said Tuesday.

Since early 2011, the Swiss government has seized assets tied to rulers in Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, including including 700 million francs ($751 million) stashed away by former President Hosni Mubarak and his aides, said M. Valentin Zellweger, head of the Swiss foreign ministry's international law department.

Zellweger, who also oversees a Swiss task force for tracking "potentate funds," told reporters at the Swiss Press Club that the Egyptian funds account for about three-quarters of the assets that it has frozen over the past year. He said Swiss authorities are cooperating with Tunisian and Egyptian judicial authorities to return their nations' money as quickly as possible.

"Today, a total of one billion francs is blocked in the framework of Arab spring," he told reporters, adding that the Swiss and Egyptian foreign ministers had met Sunday in Cairo to discuss the seized assets.

He said about 100 million francs ($107 million) tied to Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior Syrian officials were seized while 100 million francs linked to the regime of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi were frozen. Another 60 million francs ($64 million) were blocked that were linked to Tunisia's former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Switzerland generally requires other nations to provide information about possible criminal wrongdoing to start unblocking the frozen assets. In such cases, the money is usually locked up for three years _ requiring governments to jump through Swiss legal hoops that includes providing information of any financial crimes that could be prosecuted on Swiss soil.