Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak's Swiss Assets Frozen


ZURICH—The Swiss government froze assets possibly belonging to departed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and his entourage Friday, marking the latest efforts by the Alpine nation to crack down on illicit holdings in its banks.

The Foreign Ministry said Friday the government had frozen "any potential assets" belonging to Mr. Mubarak and his "associates." The freeze goes into effect immediately and lasts for three years.

A ministry spokesman declined to say how much money was involved or name the banks holding the money. The freeze applies to the sale of real estate as well. Global Financial Integrity, a Washington group that tracks corruption in the developing world, estimates that about $57 billion in illicit assets left Egypt between 2000 and 2008.

Swiss authorities slapped a similar freeze on the assets of Tunisia's ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month a few a days after he was ousted.

Bern decided to freeze Mr. Mubarak's money in case the funds came from illicit means and to prevent Mr. Mubarak from accessing them until the source of the money is clarified. The Justice Ministry had no immediate comment as to whether the move came as a result of a request from authorities in Cairo. Reliable estimates of Mr. Mubarak's wealth, or how much of it is held in Switzerland, are scarce.

Switzerland, long a favored destination for illicit assets deposited by strongmen and dictators around the world, has been trying to shake off this image by tightening money-laundering rules and moving more aggressively to help return stolen money to victim countries. Overall, Bern has returned $1.6 billion, more than any other country.

However, critics charge that Switzerland is still sitting on the world's largest cache of stolen money—more than $150 billion, according to Global Financial Integrity. Non-profit groups have criticized Switzerland for not enforcing its money-laundering rules adequately

Last fall, the Swiss Parliament approved a law that makes it easier for the government to return money to victim countries, even if that country fails to cooperate with Bern in pursuing the dictator. The law stemmed from Switzerland's frustration at the lack of cooperation from Haiti in helping it pursue $5 million stashed in Swiss banks by former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Earlier this year, Bern finally returned the money to Haiti.


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