Government extends freeze on Baby Doc funds

This portrait of Baby Doc hangs on the walls of the François Duvalier Foundation in Port-au-Prince Keystone

The Swiss government has extended a freeze on bank accounts linked to former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, an official said Friday.

This content was published on June 1, 2007 - 20:15

The accounts will remain blocked for a further three months, government spokesman Oswald Sigg told The Associated Press.

The funds were due to be released on June 3.

A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman was quoted on news agencies as saying the decision, which comes into force on Sunday, was based on developments in the canton of Geneva and the upcoming deadline for unblocking the accounts.

He added that the foreign ministry would spend the next three months trying to resolve the situation with the Duvalier family and representatives of Haiti's government.

It was still the government's aim to find a good solution concerning the money in favour of the Haitian people, said the spokesman.

Earlier this week a Swiss lawyer lodged an appeal asking the government to extend the freeze, first imposed in 2002.

Marc Henzelin, who acts on behalf of two Haitians, a taxi driver and a priest, obtained an order from a Geneva court on Wednesday blocking one of the accounts linked to Baby Doc in Switzerland.

But he said unless the government acted to block the others, money held there would be lost and could be returned to Duvalier's family via a complicated chain of trusts and companies.

The two Haitians were awarded damages against Duvalier worth $750,000 and $1 million respectively by a court in the United States in 1988.

The US District Court in Miami at the time also ordered $504 million to be paid to the Haitian people under the Alien Tort Claims Act, according to Miami attorney Ira J. Kurzban, who represented the claimants in the case.

Henzelin and his fellow lawyer Patrice Le Houellier said on Friday they welcomed the Swiss decision over the accounts and said they hoped it would give enough time for other victims of the regime to make their case.

Geneva account

Wednesday's decision in Geneva only affected one account, with the Geneva branch of UBS, held in the name of the "Brouilly Foundation" in the principality of Liechtenstein, Henzelin said earlier this week. The Brouilly Foundation is owned by a Panama-based company, which in turn is owned by members of the Duvalier family.

The amount of money in this account is not known.

Duvalier had at least two further accounts in Lausanne and Zurich, though the latter could have been closed, added Henzelin.

A senior Swiss foreign ministry official had warned last week that the money in Duvalier's Swiss accounts would have to be released on June 3 because all legal means to retain it had been exhausted.

Paul Seger, head of the Swiss foreign ministry's international law department, said the government in Haiti had tried to recover the funds after Duvalier was ousted in 1986, but the judicial process ground to a halt in the chaos that engulfed the Caribbean country during the years that followed.

A temporary block was imposed by the Swiss government in 2002 to allow more time for claims by Haitian officials and private individuals to be examined in the Swiss courts. This was renewed in 2005.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss government tried for years to reach an agreement with the Duvalier family to avoid the embarrassment of handing over money which many in Haiti consider to have been stolen from public funds – allegations Duvalier has always denied.

Switzerland's highest court ruled in 2006 that an indefinite freeze on privately owned funds was unconstitutional. The case involved SFr8 million deposited in Swiss banks by the former Zairean president, Mobutu Sese Seko, which are due to be unblocked in 2008.

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Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc", was born in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in 1951 and was named president for life in 1971 following the death of his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

A popular uprising forced him into exile in February 1986. He is believed to live in France and reportedly supports himself with handouts from friends. Tens of thousands were killed during the 29-year Duvalier dynasty.

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