Swiss try to confiscate ‘Baby Doc’ millions

The Swiss finance ministry announced Monday that it had taken legal action to secure the confiscation of Haiti ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's frozen Swiss millions after a 25-year court battle.

The ministry filed a motion for confiscation with one of Switzerland’s top courts last Friday with the aim of returning about 5.8 million Swiss francs ($6.7 million) held in a Swiss bank to the impoverished Caribbean island.

It followed the green light given by the government on February 2 after a new law easing the restitution of stolen foreign assets to home countries  came into force.

“On April 29, 2011, the federal finance ministry filed a motion for confiscation of Duvalier assets blocked in Switzerland with the Federal Administrative Tribunal,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.

“If the motion for confiscation is admitted, Switzerland will return the Duvalier assets to Haiti,” in line with the new law, it added.

Switzerland had announced the first stage of return process, a fresh one-year block, three months ago.

“Baby Doc” Duvalier and his followers are accused of plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds during their 15-year reign.

But traces of the assets have evaporated around the world over the decades, leaving the money repeatedly frozen by authorities in a Swiss bank in a tit-for-tat court battle with the holders since “Baby Doc” was toppled in 1986.

The Swiss accounts are held by the opaque Liechtenstein-based Brouilly foundation, which is tied to the Duvalier family, according to authorities. Haiti’s former strongman has denied that he owns the money.

Duvalier, who was accused of torture and murder during his presidential rule, returned from exile to Haiti in January this year, where he faces charges of corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds.

Swiss officials have said they want the money to be used for projects to tackle poverty.

Haiti’s president-elect, Michel Martelly, was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview last month that he was considering an amnesty for former leaders Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Duvalier to promote reconciliation.

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Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the cost of living soaring due to inflation, many consumers in Switzerland are looking for ways to save money. Could buying goods abroad through foreign websites be a good solution?

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the Swiss franc still stronger than the euro, ordering your products online from European distributors could indeed be cheaper than paying Swiss prices.

A recent report by the RTS public broadcaster, found that even some Swiss products are cheaper when purchased abroad — for instance, capsules for Nespresso coffee machines cost less on the company’s German site than they do in Switzerland.

This applies to a variety of products, ranging from food and beverages to clothing.

In fact, shopping on foreign platforms became a lot easier for the Swiss in January 2022, when ‘geoblocking’ — the practice that restricts access to Internet content based on the user’s geographical location — was banned in Switzerland.

This means Swiss customers are no longer denied the possibility of buying on foreign shopping platforms.

However, there are things to consider before you go on a shopping spree “abroad”, such as additional charges.

While something may appear to be a really great deal in comparison to Swiss prices, keep in mind that the purchase may be subject to customs duties.

According to the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (BAZG) “the customs duties are generally calculated according to the gross weight (including packaging), and are often less than 1 franc per kilo. Particularly alcoholic beverages, tobacco goods, foodstuffs, textiles and jewellery items are subject to higher customs duties”.

In other words, before you order something that you think is a really good deal, find out if any additional charges will be due; depending on the amount, the final cost may not make it worthwhile for you to purchase abroad.

The good news is that, as BAZG points out, goods ordered from “countries with which Switzerland has concluded a free trade agreement or from developing countries can usually be imported duty-free or at reduced rates”.

You can find out more information about which countries are included, here.

But you could face other problems as well.

As the RTS reported, while ordering items abroad is easy, having them delivered to Switzerland may not be.

As a test, the RTS team tried to order common products, such an Ikea piece of furniture, a vacuum cleaner, and brand-name sneakers — all of which are more affordable abroad — but discovered that “it was impossible to get these objects delivered to Switzerland”.

That’s because on some shopping platforms a customer can’t change the destination country — it is embedded on the site and blocked.

At some of these  merchants, “the customer is even directly redirected to the Swiss site if an address in Switzerland is indicated”, RTS said. This means you will end up paying Swiss prices.

Sophie Michaud Gigon, general secretary of the consumer protection association FRC, told RTS that some foreign sites have not yet adapted to the law prohibitng geoblocking.

And there is something else too that you should pay attention to online.

Say you prefer to avoid foreign sites and shop in Switzerland instead. This could be a problem as well.

Under the Swiss law, it is possible to obtain a domain name ending in .ch, even though these companies are  located abroad. This has proven to be misleading to many Switzerland-based customers.

That’s why many clients who believe they are ordering from a supplier in Switzerland are actually buying from a foreign company — a fact that they only discover when they have to pay customs duty.

The only way to avoid this trap, according to FRC, is to call the number on the company’s website and ask where they are located.