Swiss businessmen to stand trial in Libya

Two Swiss businessmen prevented from leaving Libya for more than a year will be tried for tax evasion and visa irregularities, Libya’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The men have been held in Libya since July 2008 following the arrest in Geneva of a son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi for allegedly mistreating two domestic employees, an incident which sparked a major diplomatic row.

”They will be tried and charged with non respect for residence visa procedures and tax evasion,” the ministry said in a statement read to reporters at a news conference by its general secretary, Khalid Qouaim.

The men face a third charge of failing to respect rules set out for companies working in Libya, he added.

Libya cut oil supplies to Switzerland and withdrew more than $5-billion in assets from Swiss banks after the arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife last year. The couple were released soon after their arrest and charges were dropped.

An apology in August by Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz failed to secure a return home for Rachid Hamdani, who works for a construction company, and Max Goeldi, Libya head of the Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering conglomerate ABB.

The businessmen were handed back to the Swiss embassy on Monday from an undisclosed location, but Qouaim said they must now leave the embassy and choose another place to stay so they can be reached by their lawyers and law enforcement officials.

He denied a Swiss assertion that the two had been kidnapped.

”Before they were handed to the embassy they had been free to move within Libya but not to leave the country, but we put them in a safe place,” he said.

Switzerland said last week it had suspended an agreement which Merz signed to normalise relations because Tripoli had failed to allow the two men to leave. — Reuters

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