x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Libya sentences Swiss businessmen to 16 months

The sentence comes on the heels of a Swiss referendum to outlaw the construction of minarets in mosques there

TRIPOLI // A Libyan court convicted on Tuesday two Swiss businessmen of violating residency and labour laws and sentenced them to 16 months in jail and a $1,500 fine, a Libyan official said. The two were detained in July 2008 on alleged visa violations, days after Swiss police arrested Hannibal Qadafi, the son of Libya's leader, Muammer Qadafi, and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants a luxury hotel in Geneva. The sentence also comes amid a furore in the Muslim world over a Swiss referendum to outlaw the construction of minarets in mosques there.

A Swiss foreign ministry official confirmed the sentences and said the two were tried by a court in Tripoli. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. No foreign diplomats or reporters were allowed at the trial. The businessmen, identified as Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani, were handed over to the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli earlier in November, triggering expectations they would be released and allowed to return home. The official said the two were present at the one-day trial and were taken immediately to a prison to serve their terms.

Mr Gadhafi was held for two days in Geneva before being allowed to return home. The complaint was eventually dropped after the two servants received compensation from an undisclosed source. Switzerland apologised for the manner of the arrest and subjected itself to possible compensation claims as part of the August agreement reached in Tripoli, but later suspended the deal after repeated attempts to secure the release of Goeldi and Hamdani failed.

Libya has called on Switzerland not to assume any links between the case and the issue of the "aggression" on the son of the Libyan leader. The saga has badly damaged relations between the two countries and prompted calls in Switzerland for the resignation of Hans-Rudolf Merz, the Swiss president, who staked his credibility on the men's release. In addition to detaining the men, Libya recalled some of its diplomats from Switzerland, suspended visas for Swiss citizens, withdrew funds from Swiss banks, stopped crude oil shipments and reduced flights to the Alpine country. Tuesday's speedy trial come two days after a majority of 57.5 per cent of the Swiss population ratified the ban on the minarets. Although The Swiss government opposed the initiative, the move has sparked an outcry across the Muslim world.

* AP