Thursday, January 27, 2005

Swiss Get High Marks for African Sanctions

Switzerland is tightening up United Nations sanctions relating to West Africa, including freezing bank accounts of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. African leaders have had a history of having fortunes in Swiss banks, but money found to be of criminal origin is now being stopped.

The head of Switzerland's sanctions division at the state secretariat for economic affairs, Roland Vock, says Swiss action against war-torn Liberia and divided Ivory Coast was announced late last week.

International Crisis Group West Africa analyst Mike McGovern says it is encouraging to see Switzerland being pro-active, even if some sanctions remain hypothetical. "It's got the significance of showing the goodwill of Switzerland which is a country that's often been used for hiding the ill-gotten goods in its very private bank accounts," he said.

Concerning Liberia, the U.N. Security Council asked in March, 2004, for all members to search for and freeze assets related to Charles Taylor.

Switzerland had already frozen about $5 million linked to the former warlord president in 2003, but later unblocked the funds because of what authorities called insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Officials at the court in Freetown say they have been getting excellent cooperation from the Swiss. They are trying to bring Mr. Taylor to trial, but Liberian authorities say it would be better to wait for the peace process to take hold.

Mr. Taylor is accused of stashing millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts and elsewhere, from selling diamonds in exchange for weapons. Mr. Vock did not say how much money is currently linked to Mr. Taylor within the Swiss banking system.

In that matter, Switzerland announced late last year it would return to Nigeria almost $500 million allegedly stolen by the late military leader, after agreeing with Abuja authorities the money was of criminal origin.

Voice of America,27 January 2005, By Nico Colombant, Abidjan


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