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Swiss want to speed up return of looted assets

Source: Reuters - Wed 28th Apr 2010

Switzerland on Wednesday unveiled a bill aimed at speeding up the return of assets locked in Swiss accounts to the countries they were looted from, amending legislation after a series of embarrassments.

A loophole in the system meant the Swiss repeatedly failed to confiscate and hand over to Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries which suffered a devastating earthquake in January,nearly $6 million belonging to former ruler "Baby Doc" Duvalier held in Switzerland.

Under the old rules, the Swiss cannot return assets unless the country of origin files a formal request for assistance in criminal matters.

"Experience has shown that this system reaches its limits when the failure of national legal systems means that countries are unable to carry out national criminal proceedings" the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Many former authoritarian rulers of mostly emerging countries stashed fortunes in Swiss bank accounts, for yearshiding behind the country's secrecy laws.

Switzerland, which no longer accepts such illicit assets and has introduced strict money-laundering rules, has returned to countries over the past 15 years more than 1.7 billion Swiss francs that once belonged to corrupt politicians.

This included assets from Nigeria's ex-ruler Sani Abacha,former Philippine's president Ferdinand Marcos and the former head of Peru's secret service Vladimiro Montesinos.

Under the new law, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court would be able to confiscate or freeze assets that have been illicitly acquired even in the absence of a specific request from the country of origin, the Foreign Ministry said.

The draft law will now be put to a parliamentary vote.

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