Date for freezing of Mobutu assets expires

Bern, Press release, 21.04.2009

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has taken note of the decision by the state prosecutor (SP) not to pursue the complaint submitted in January 2009 concerning the assets of former president Mobutu. The Confederation has been trying since 1997 to find a solution to this case. The freezing of assets was due to expire on 30 April 2009. To prevent the repetition of such cases in future, in December 2008 the Federal Council mandated the FDFA to draft a law making it possible to confiscate and to restitute the illicit assets of politically exposed persons.

The freezing of the assets (c. CHF 7 million) of the late president Mobutu dates back to 1997, the year in which the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC) submitted a request for legal aid in a criminal matter to several States, including Switzerland.  As the  RDC failed to present a compelling case, the Federal Office of Justice had to close the case in December 2003.  

The Federal Council then ordered the freezing of the assets on the basis of article 184 para 3 Cst on 15 December 2003. As a result of efforts to find a solution with the various actors involved, the freezing was prolonged several times. The decision of the SP not to open an inquiry means that the Confederation has now exhausted the last remaining possibility of withholding the assets. As matters stand, the freezing of the Mobutu assets will end on 30 April 2009. 

Since 1997 the Confederation has gone to considerable lengths to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion. In accordance with the mandate it received from the Federal Council, the FDFA assisted the parties concerned in an effort to reach as satisfactory a conclusion as possible. However, the lack of support over a long period from the Congolese authorities, together with the inflexibility of the Mobutu heirs, meant that it was not possible to reach an agreement. The submission of a complaint in January 2009 came too late, as the SP pointed out that the statutory limitation had by then expired.

From a legal point of view, this experience demonstrated that if a State is not capable of observing the legal assistance procedures, the system established by Switzerland is unable to resolve all cases of illicit assets frozen in our country. In December 2008  the Federal Council therefore mandated the FDFA to draft a law to confiscate and to restitute the illicit assets of politically exposed persons. This legislative process is currently under way.

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