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August 19, 2009
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Protest as Switzerland returns plundered assets to African dictator's family
The Swiss government is set to return $6.6 million to the family of Mobutu Seke Seso, the former dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The decision marks the end of a 12-year fight to return the assets directly to the Congolese people and not to Mobutu's heirs to help address the country's deep social problems.

Mobutu came to power after a coup in 1965 and ruled the country for more than 30 years. During his oppressive rule, it's believed he took $5 billion out of the mineral-rich country, while large parts of the population lived on less than $1 a day. Millions of Mobutu's plundered assets were frozen in Swiss bank accounts after the dictator was ousted from office by Laurent Kabila in 1997 under a slew of bribery and money laundering allegations.

When the new Congolese government asked for legal assistance from Switzerland to repatriate the assets, Swiss prosecutors began confiscating bank accounts linked to Mobutu; they also auctioned off Mobutu's luxury villa overlooking Lake Geneva for an additional $2.5 million in 2001.

While the DRC initially showed interest in taking the money and returning it to the people of Congo, political will has since waned. Even a trip by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to the DRC in 2007 failed to spur negotiations.

In April, the Swiss Federal Department of Justice announced its decision to close the case. According to Swiss law, prosecutors are required to confiscate money acquired by illegal activities -- including drugs deals, extortion and the proceeds from bribery. But the Swiss Department of Justice argued that the statute of limitations of five years had expired because Mobutu fled the Congo in 1997.

Mark Pieth, a Basel law professor and chair of the OECD working group on bribery, launched a citizen's complaint against the decision saying that closing the case violated Swiss law. Pieth argued that the criminal network represented by Mobutu and his descendants continued to exist until at least 2004 through one of his sons, Manda Mobutu, who officially acted as his father's deputy before the dictator's death. Mobutu's two eldest sons, Manda and Nzanga, founded a political party financed by money left to them by Mobutu, Pieth wrote in the complaint.

Pieth requested that the assets remain frozen until the remaining legal questions were answered and the money could be returned to the people of the DRC. The late dictator's family still holds considerable political influence in the country, most directly through Mobutu's son, Nzanga Mobutu, who serves as the deputy prime minister and minister of agricultural affairs.

When Pieth's complaint was rejected on appeal in July, the Swiss anti-corruption organization Aktion Finanzplatz said the Congolese people were hurt most by the decision. "The population of the DRC was cheated out of Mobutu's money, which obviously was of criminal origin," the group said in a statement.

Pieth was equally disappointed: "The last chance to forfeit and repatriate the funds stolen by the Mobutu Clan has been lost," he said. Even the Swiss Foreign Ministry signaled frustration releasing a statement saying that the outcome had ended "12 years of keeping the assets frozen and attempting to find a fair solution," and called for legal reform.

China's anti-corruption efforts gain momentum
In one of China's most high-profile bribery convictions, the former head of Sinopec, China's state-owned oil and petroleum company, received a suspended death sentence. The Financial Times reported in July that Chen Tonghai was convicted of taking $28.8 million in bribes between 1999 and 2007 when he was a senior executive with the company. Tonghai hid some of the money in his home inside fish tanks, the toilet and under roof tiles.

Siemens saga continues
Siemens bribery troubles continue, despite the fact the company paid a record $1.6 billion in fines to U.S. and German authorities last December to settle a slew of international corruption charges. One case being pursued by Greek prosecutors has resulted in an arrest and a confession in Germany. According to the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Michael Christophorakos, the former head of Siemens Greece, admitted to paying bribes to political officials in Greece for services connected with the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens.

Christophorakos fled Greece in May but was recently arrested in Munich. The report says Christophorakos is likely to provide Munich prosecutors with information about other Siemens executives who may have been involved in criminal activities in return for the chance of a lighter sentence. Meanwhile, prosecutors have charged a former member of the Greek parliament with taking a bribe of about $500,000. The politician, a member of the Socialist Pasok party, reportedly admitted taking the bribe but said he forwarded the money to the party -- a claim party officials deny. Greek prosecutors have indicted nine other suspects accused of bribery in connection with the Games.

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REACTIONS


SUNDAY AREMU - CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
It is neither the legal twists nor verdicts that matter, it is the faces and future of those kids mired in poverty, the dismantling of the state and its scars on the moral conscience of the Swiss government.This, coming at a time when Africa is in dire need of solutions to its perennial crises, is quite unfortunate. The Swiss government has openly shown its total lack of passion and sensitivity to the African crises. From Mobutu To Abacha, the Swiss government could never have been ignorant of the developmental consequences of their actions. Money that could have gone into hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructures, have all ended in Swiss. Today, poverty and under-development in Africa would have been properly tackled if Europe and indeed, America have not made their banks havens for African's stolen wealth. Unfortunately, these are the same countries talking about tackling African's problem.Conclusively, the decision to give Mobutu's stolen money back to his children, does not constitute a case in morality. This is essentially what Africa needs from the West in order to tackle its own problems.


ADAM HUSSEIN - TORONTO, ONTARIO
There are forces behind this decision. The reason why Congo stopped interest is because there was a back room deal. I know the facts

 

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