Switzerland has announced that it will return some 225,000 euros (approx. $250,000) to Tunisia, funds said to belong to the country’s former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Swiss authorities in 2011 froze up to 60 million Swiss francs (approx. $61m) belonging to the Ben Ali family.
The announcement was made by the Swiss ambassador to Tunisia, Rita Adam on the sidelines of an international conference on asset recovery in Tunis.
To my knowledge, apart from the Lebanon case, which was a bit special, this is the first time a foreign country is returning funds to Tunisia.
“60 million Swiss francs of ill-gotten wealth? We do not know. They are suspicious funds” she told the AFP news agency.
She however explained that the funds blocked by the Swiss government belonged to “members of the Ben Ali family” adding that it was now up to Tunisian authorities to investigate the source of the money stashed in the Swiss bank account.
“It is the job of the judge, now to determine whether these funds come from a crime such as corruption or if that is not the case,” she added.
Rita Adam said although the money being returned to Tunisia “seems modest” what was worthy of note was that “our cooperation is yielding results. And to my knowledge, apart from the Lebanon case, which was a bit special, this is the first time a foreign country is returning funds to Tunisia.”
Lebanon in 2013 returned 28.8 million dollars of illicitly acquired funds to Tunisia.
The money which was held in a Lebanese bank account by Ben Ali’s wife was handed over to Tunisia’s president at the time, Moncef Marzouki by the Qatari Attorney General, Ali bin Fetais al-Marri who is a UNODC Special Regional Advocate for the Prevention of Corruption (Middle East).
According to the Financial Tribune, the Tunisian assets will remain frozen until January 2017 pending a Swiss government review next year on whether to extend the assets freeze.
The move by Switzerland is part of a new law which seeks to seize and repatriate illicit wealth stashed in Swiss banks by foreign dictators.