GENEVA – GENEVA (AP) — Swiss lawmakers will soon vote on legislation that would make it hard for dictators to stockpile cash in Swiss bank accounts, and one of the first beneficiaries could be relief agencies helping Haiti recover from its devastating earthquake.
The law would allow Switzerland to give aid groups in Haiti at least $4.6 million claimed from Swiss bank accounts by former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the Swiss government said Wednesday, as it announced that parliament was ready to vote on the legislation.
"With the law, cases such as ... Duvalier will not happen again," said Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. She said the legislation received strong support in the preliminary steps, making approval likely as soon as a vote can be scheduled.
In a ruling which embarrassed the government, Switzerland's top court decided Jan. 12, just hours before a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, that $4.6 million must be returned to Duvalier's family because the statute of limitations on any crimes committed by the Duvalier clan would have expired in 2001.
The Swiss government rushed out an emergency decree saying the funds are of criminal origin and should go to aid agencies working in the impoverished Caribbean nation. It decided to keep the money blocked in a Swiss bank pending passage of the law making the aid transfer possible.
The law, which the government said would work retroactively, would make it easier for assets belonging to deposed dictators to be repatriated to national governments.
The current rules only allow Switzerland to return cash when asked by a national government pursuing its own criminal investigation — a handicap in countries where amnesty laws, corruption or weak legal systems hinder prosecution of past leaders.
Under the new law, Switzerland's administrative court would be able to confiscate or freeze dictator cash in Swiss banks, even if a country is not able to prosecute its deposed leader. The purpose of confiscating the assets is to fund aid programs that help improve people's living conditions in such a country, a Swiss government statement said.
It said it hopes "this new act can enter into force rapidly so that a solution to the issue of the Duvalier assets can be found as soon as possible."
Haiti made its first request for the money in 1986, shortly after Duvalier's ouster.
But the money has been frozen ever since because Switzerland would not give it back while the Haitian government wasn't pursuing Duvalier under its own justice system.
Switzerland has traditionally been a favorite location for "potentate" money because of its banking secrecy rules. But reforms over the last two decades have made it harder to hide money in Switzerland, and the country has become a world leader in returning such cash.