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Swiss businessmen are jailed on visa offences

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-02

A Libyan court has jailed two Swiss businessmen for 16 months for visa offences, a Libyan judicial source said on Tuesday, in a move likely to prolong a damaging rift between the two countries.

AFP - Libya sentenced two Swiss businessmen to 16 months in prison and a fine on Tuesday, an official told AFP, in a row stemming from the arrest in Geneva last year of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son.

"The two Swiss citizens have received a 16-month prison sentence and a fine of 2,000 dinars (1,100 euros) each" for overstaying their visas, said the judiciary official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They were detained in Libya after Kadhafi's son Hannibal and his wife were arrested in July 2008 after two servants complained he had mistreated them in a Geneva hotel, sparking a diplomatic row between Bern and Tripoli.

The servants later dropped the allegations, but the businessmen, Max Goldi, a senior manager at the Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB, and fellow Swiss Rashid Hamdani who works for a small construction firm, were not freed.

Tripoli initially denied the men exit visas and charged them with alleged immigration offences. However, they were later released on bail and allowed to stay at the Swiss embassy.

"The sentence takes effect from Tuesday," the judiciary official said, adding that only the 20 days the pair spent in custody immediately after their arrest last year will count towards their sentences.

"The two businessmen can appeal the verdict after a week's delay."

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed the sentences for an "alleged violation of the visa law."

"The two Swiss are still at the Swiss embassy in Tripoli," ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said, adding that they had not been in court for sentencing.

He said the ministry was in contact with their families and coordinating the next move.

Goldi and Hamdani are also due in court later this month in another case relating to "carrying out unauthorised business activity," the Libyan official said, without specifying a date.

The businessmen had been due to return to Switzerland on September 6, but two days earlier daily newspaper La Tribune de Geneve printed pictures of Hannibal Kadhafi looking dishevelled while in police custody.

Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who in August had ruffled political feathers at home by apologising for the arrest of the Kadhafis, said the publication of the photos was seen in Tripoli "as a humiliation."

As well as detaining the two businessmen, a furious Tripoli restricted air links, stopped giving visas to Swiss nationals and shut the local offices of major Swiss companies ABB and Nestle.

In mid-September, the two went missing after being invited out of the Swiss embassy for a medical check-up. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey later accused the Tripoli authorities of "kidnapping" them.

But Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim denied last month they had been abducted and told AFP the men were "transferred" out of the embassy amid reports that a commando operation was being planned to free them.

"The two Swiss nationals were not kidnapped nor did they go missing," Kaim said. "Their transfer was decided following reports in the Swiss media that a commando operation might be launched to free them."

He said Libya had sent a diplomatic note to the Swiss embassy in Tripoli informing it that the men were to be transferred.

Kaim said last month that Goldi and Hamdani would be put on trial before the end of the year for alleged tax evasion and immigration offences.

Date created : 2009-12-02


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