Layne case: Frozen assets will not be released to Ethiopia

Businessman may institute civil proceedings

Press Release, FOJ, 14.05.2003

Bern, 14 May 2003. The Federal Office of Justice (FoJ) has rejected a mutual assistance request from the Republic of Ethiopia asking for the repatriation of frozen assets. The USD 8 million in blocked accounts in Geneva are part of a loan that was granted to the Ethiopian government but embezzled by the former Prime Minister. The businessman who granted the original loan may institute civil proceedings in order to have the funds in question returned to him.

The Ethiopian authorities submitted a request for mutual assistance to Switzerland in 1997, in connection with criminal proceedings against the former Prime Minister Tamirat Layne. They alleged that Layne and others had embezzled 16 million US dollars, representing a loan granted by a businessman to the Ethiopian government, and deposited a portion of the funds with a bank in Geneva. Following the request for assistance, the Federal Office for Police Matters (from which authority has since been transferred to the FoJ) had USD 8 million dollars frozen at a Geneva bank and the following year surrendered the relevant documents to the Ethiopian authorities.

On 14 March 2000, the Supreme Court of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia handed down long terms of imprisonment to Layne and the other defendants for embezzling the loan and for other crimes against property. The Court also ordered the confiscation of the blocked accounts in Geneva. On the basis of this judgment, the Ethiopian authorities last year requested that the FoJ surrender the assets concerned.

Although they are subject to the judgment passed by the Ethiopian court, the amounts deposited in the bank accounts frozen in Geneva relate exclusively to a part of the embezzled loan. There is thus no link between the sequestered assets and the other crimes against property committed by Layne and his co-offenders. With this in mind, the FoJ has refused to comply with the request to repatriate the funds in question to the Republic of Ethiopia. The businessman who granted the original loan may institute civil proceedings in order to have his assets returned. Furthermore, at the businessman's request a Geneva court of first instance has already issued a final sequestration order for the 8 million US dollars.

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