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Swiss Get High Marks for African Sanctions


Switzerland is tightening up United Nations sanctions relating to West Africa, including freezing bank accounts of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. African leaders have had a history of having fortunes in Swiss banks, but money found to be of criminal origin is now being stopped.

The head of Switzerland's sanctions division at the state secretariat for economic affairs, Roland Vock, says Swiss action against war-torn Liberia and divided Ivory Coast - also known by its French name, Cote d'Ivoire - was announced late last week.

"The Swiss Federal Council, the Swiss government decided on two federal regulations concerning sanctions," said Mr. Vock. "The first one is implementing the U.N. Security Council resolution on Cote d'Ivoire and the second one concerns the U.N. sanctions against Liberia."

The Ivory Coast sanctions include an arms embargo and freezing bank accounts of yet-to-be named individuals blocking the stalled peace process.

International Crisis Group West Africa analyst Mike McGovern says it is encouraging to see Switzerland being pro-active, even if some sanctions remain hypothetical. "It's got the significance of showing the goodwill of Switzerland which is a country that's often been used for hiding the ill-gotten goods in its very private bank accounts," he said.

Concerning Liberia, the U.N. Security Council asked in March, 2004, for all members to search for and freeze assets related to Charles Taylor.

Switzerland had already frozen about $5 million linked to the former warlord president in 2003, but later unblocked the funds because of what authorities called insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Mr. Vock says Switzerland's government took advantage of the Security Council reconducting separate arms, timber, diamond and travel sanctions in December to go ahead and freeze the assets of Mr. Taylor, now living in exile in Nigeria.

"Switzerland took this as an opportunity to also introduce the last sanctions," he said. "However, Switzerland had already in the year 2003 actually been freezing a number of accounts of Charles Taylor and people very close to him based on a request by the Special Court for Sierra Leone."

Officials at the court in Freetown say they have been getting excellent cooperation from the Swiss. They are trying to bring Mr. Taylor to trial, but Liberian authorities say it would be better to wait for the peace process to take hold.

Mr. Taylor is accused of stashing millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts and elsewhere, from selling diamonds in exchange for weapons. Mr. Vock did not say how much money is currently linked to Mr. Taylor within the Swiss banking system.

But the International Crisis Group analyst, Mr. McGovern, says Switzerland's progress is important, as West African leaders have a history of keeping money of questionable origin in its banks.

"Switzerland is increasingly playing by the same rules as most of the countries in the European Union for instance," said Mr. McGovern. "So it's encouraging to see that they are willing to actually participate in the same way that they did, for instance, with the family of Sani Abacha."

In that matter, Switzerland announced late last year it would return to Nigeria almost $500 million allegedly stolen by the late military leader, after agreeing with Abuja authorities the money was of criminal origin.

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