Yes, the Swiss are doing the right thing

SWITZERLAND is a country more likely than not known for its watches, its world-class chocolates, alpine skiing and the Swiss fondue.Switzerland is also home to some of the world’s organizations such as the WTO, ILO and the Red Cross and serves as a genial host to other regional organizations as well.A country that has remained neutral and has not engaged in any wars for almost 200 years, Switzerland is rarely associated with any drama on the world’s political stage. Perhaps the only murmurs in yesteryears garnering any front-page headlines were focused on Swiss bank accounts and their secrecy laws. But after tinpot dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Manuel Noriega of Panama brazenly looted their country’s coffers while their people starved, the Swiss have made some fine adjustments in their laws.Immediately following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by a popular people’s revolt, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey declared that the Swiss government had decided to block all assets that may be held in Switzerland by Mubarak or his family and several prominent Egyptians, including some former government ministers. The minister said that a decree was issued shortly after Mubarak was forced to step down last week to identify and block any assets belonging to the deposed Egyptian president and his family.This follows a similar decree issued in January on ousted Tunisian President Zain El-Abidine Ben Ali and Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, both of whom saw their Swiss assets frozen once they were forced out of office.

Switzerland has in recent years enacted legislation making it easier to return illegally obtained assets of corrupt leaders to their countries’ coffers, on condition the funds will be used for the wellbeing of the citizens. It has worked hard to improve its image as a refuge for allegedly ill-gotten money.Freezing Mubarak’s assets has prompted Egyptian authorities to ask for legal assistance to help prevent the withdrawal of funds, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung in an interview last week. Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had to ensure it does not become a haven for “dirty money … It cannot be that right at our door some people embezzle state funds and put them into their own pocket.”

Mubarak’s wealth has long been a subject of speculation. Unconfirmed reports floating in the media suggest that he and his family could have accumulated wealth in the billions. According to the Swiss National Bank, Egyptian deposits in Swiss bank accounts totaled 3.6 billion Swiss francs ($3.7 billion).The United Nations Convention against Corruption resulted in an agreement whereby countries approved legislation on asset-recovery, which was a fundamental principle of the convention. This was a particularly important point for many developing countries where high-level corruption had plundered the national wealth, and where resources were badly needed for the rebuilding of societies under new governments.

In particular, “in the case of embezzlement of public funds, the confiscated property would be returned to the state requesting it; in the case of proceeds of any other offense covered by the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the property would be returned providing the proof of ownership or recognition of the damage caused to a requesting state.”Since the Swiss took that first bold move, other governments have begun to heed the call of the Egyptian people in their demand for the return of state money. British Business Minister Vince Cable said countries need to work together on Mubarak’s assets, and that there should be an international approach in dealing with the overseas assets of deposed Egyptian president and his family in light of allegation that the recently ousted leader has assets valued in the billions dispersed throughout the world.

Asked if Britain would follow Switzerland’s lead, Cable told BBC television that he “was not aware that he (Mubarak) had enormous assets here, but there clearly needs to be a concerted international action on this. There is no point one government acting in isolation, but certainly we need to look at it. It depends also whether his funds are illegally or improperly obtained.”Also last week, European Union finance ministers discussed Egypt’s request to freeze the assets of former officials from Mubarak’s regime, but the 27-nation bloc has yet to decide what action to take.But to the Egyptian people, it is the actions of the Swiss that has mattered most. The Swiss were the frontrunners when it came to doing the right thing – Arabnews