GENEVA - Gambia's former interior minister who applied for asylum in Switzerland is being investigated for possible crimes against humanity committed in his homeland, Swiss federal prosecutors said Monday.
The attorney general's office said in a statement that it's taking over an investigation initially launched by regional authorities in Bern because crimes against humanity would be international offenses that fall under federal jurisdiction.
Michael Lauber's office did not specify the suspect by name Monday but cited a complaint filed by Trial International. The watchdog group last month called for an investigation into whether former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko had any role in crimes including assault, coercion and false imprisonment during the 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Sonko, who was minister from 2006 to 2016, applied for asylum in Switzerland on Nov. 10 amid a political squabble following elections that Jammeh lost. Sonko was taken into custody Jan. 28.
Trial International welcomed the prosecutors' decision, saying Sonko must have been aware of the human rights violations happening in Gambia.
"As the head of detention centers, M. Sonko could not have ignored the large-scale torture that political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders suffered there," said Benedict de Moerloose, the group's head of the inquiries and criminal law division.
It said Sonko first fled to Senegal and then to Sweden, where an asylum application was rejected.
Jammeh, who seized control in a 1994 coup, went into exile following international pressure and the threat of a regional military intervention after refusing to accept his December election loss to Adama Barrow.