The Swiss government is examining whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has assets in the country after the accounts of former Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were frozen last month.
“The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is looking into” whether Mubarak or his family have any assets in the nation’s banks, and “the government will be informed,” Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told SF in a television interview broadcast late yesterday, adding “there are no entirely clear signs” of whether Mubarak or his entourage do have assets in Switzerland.
Mubarak has said he intends to stay in his position until September even as daily rallies in Cairo call for him to step down. Protests spread to Egypt after Tunisia’s former President Ben Ali left the country for Saudi Arabia. The Swiss government has said it blocked “tens of millions” of Ben Ali’s assets.
Switzerland’s reputation as an international banking center depends on the ability to check whether funds deposited in its banks had been acquired legally, Widmer-Schlumpf said. The government would act “appropriately,” after the Mubarak investigation, she said, without being more specific or saying that any potential assets would be frozen.
Suleiman Awad, a spokesman for Egypt’s president, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment when Bloomberg News tried to reach him at his office three times.
According to Swiss legislation, illegally acquired assets of former heads of states can be frozen and possibly returned to the nation’s people.
Middle East Funds
“We in Switzerland have to make sure that the money coming in is both legal and taxed so that our banking sector maintains its reputation,” she said in the interview.
The “surprisingly quick” decision to block Ben Ali’s Swiss funds may send a warning signal to leaders across the Middle East, said Jon Marks, an academic at Chatham House, a foreign policy research institute based in London.
Widmer-Schlumpf said that while there were “sometimes assumptions” that politicians from abroad might conceal illegal funds in Swiss accounts, it would be an “oversimplification” to say that all foreign leaders’ assets were suspect.
“It’s definitely important that we check where this money is coming from and whether it’s legal,” she said, adding that Switzerland has no plans to ban politicians from other countries from opening bank accounts. “What criteria would you use?”
“It’s important that the money that comes in is legal and taxed -- that can be checked -- but the question of who is legal or illegal and in which regime is someone legal or illegal is not something for Switzerland to decide,” she said.