Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Swiss court awards Haiti funds to Baby Doc Duvalier

Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier
A lower court had frozen funds belonging to Jean-Claude Duvalier

At least $4.6m (£2.9m) in Swiss bank accounts must be returned to the family of Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, a Swiss court has ruled.

A lower court had previously awarded charities the money - but that decision was overturned on 12 January and the ruling released on 3 February.

However, the Swiss government has blocked the release of the money until a law is passed to return it to Haiti.

The exile, known as Baby Doc, allegedly looted millions. He denies wrong-doing.

The court decision was made hours before the Haiti earthquake killed at least 150,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

The three-week delay before the ruling had been released was a common feature of Swiss courts, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The Federal Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling that the money should go to aid groups in Haiti because the statute of limitations on any crimes committed by the Duvalier clan expired in 2001.

We assume that this money doesn't belong to the Duvalier family
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf
Swiss Justice Minister

The court decision cannot be appealed.

But the Swiss Foreign Ministry said it would continue to block the release of the money while it formulated a better law dealing with assets of "criminal origin".

The government was keen "to avoid the Swiss financial centre serving as a haven for illegally acquired assets," it said in a statement.

"We assume that this money doesn't belong to the Duvalier family," said Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, according to AP.

"We've blocked the money again... to prevent that it goes somewhere that it shouldn't for political reasons.

"We really hope that this money finally goes back to the country."

The Duvaliers ruled Haiti from 1957, when Papa Doc came to power, helped by his brutal private militia, the Tontons Macoutes.

Fled unrest

On his father's death in 1971, 19-year-old Baby Doc was named president for life.

Haiti first asked for the money to be returned in 1986 shortly after Baby Doc fled unrest and settled in France.

But Switzerland refused to return it because the Haitian government was not pursuing Mr Duvalier under its own justice system.

And as an alternative, the Swiss government had proposed giving the money to aid groups working in Haiti.

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