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LIBYA

Swiss froze one billion francs after Arab Spring

Switzerland has blocked nearly one billion Swiss francs ($1.1 billion, €800 million) in assets linked to former autocratic Middle Eastern leaders since the Arab Spring, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

The Swiss government has held funds linked to ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali since he left the country in January 2011, and those of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak after his departure from power the same year, said Valentin Zellweger, the head of the foreign ministry's international law department.

Switzerland had blocked some 700 million Swiss francs from Egypt and 60 million from Tunisia, and was currently working with the new administrations in those countries to find a way to return the funds to the Egyptian and Tunisian people, Zellweger told reporters in Geneva.

Following separate United Nations Security Council resolutions, Switzerland had also blocked 100 million francs from Libya and another 100 million from Syria, Zellweger said.

Asked why the restitution of funds to Tunisia and Egypt was taking so long, he said the onus was on those nations, since "it is them who determine the speed of the procedures."

"Switzerland is confronted in Egypt and Tunisia with cases unprecedented in size," Zellweger said.

In Tunisia's case, Switzerland held the accounts of 48 people close to Ben Ali, while 32 people linked to Mubarak had their holdings frozen in the Egyptian case, he explained, adding that each account had registered between 250 and 2,000 separate transactions.

When asked about the relatively modest amount of frozen Tunisian funds, Zellweger said there were two possible explanations: Either "the Ben Ali clan did not like Switzerland," and had therefore
placed its funds elsewhere, or the Swiss measures taken to avoid suspicious funds "worked well, and Swiss banks refused the funds," he said.

Switzerland is the only country that has published the amount of funds it has frozen, Zellweger said.

It remained unclear, he said, how long it would take to return the cash to its countries of origin, where in most cases the money is desperately needed for reconstruction or democratisation efforts in the vacuum left by the departed dictators.

The fastest such procedure ever carried out by Switzerland took five years and came with its restitution of blocked funds linked to Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha after his reign ended with his death in 1998.

While frozen in Switzerland, the funds are managed conservatively, and any interest gains are returned to the country in question, along with the capital.

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SYRIA

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

A 31-year-old woman from Winterthur who tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) is standing trial under Swiss anti-terror laws.

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona. Photo: Swiss Confederation/OFCL

The alleged ‘jihadi tourist' appeared before Switzerland's federal criminal court in Bellinzona on Friday, the Swiss news agency SDA reported. 

In December 2015, the woman, accompanied by her four-year-old child, attempted to travel to Syria via Greece and Turkey in order to join IS, the authorities allege. 

Her intended destination was Raqqa, which was at the time an IS stronghold in Syria.

The woman was prevented from continuing her journey by the Greek authorities and was arrested at Zurich airport on her return to Switzerland in January 2016. 

The Swiss attorney general's office filed an indictment against the Swiss national for offences under the federal law that bans terror groups including Isis. 

According to the indictment, the woman radicalized herself through internet propaganda after converting to Islam in 2009.

It says the Swiss national believed it was the duty of all Muslims to support IS.

She said she rejected western values.

This is only the second case concerning a so-called ‘jihadi tourist' to go before Switzerland's federal criminal court. 

The first prosecution of its kind took place in 2016, when a 26-year-old man was found guilty of attempting to travel to join Isis and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Islamic State has been banned in Switzerland since 2014.