|Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has earlier also denied that his family holds any assets abroad [GALLO/GETTY]|
The Libyan government says that Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader, has no personal assets in Swiss bank accounts, and that any cash held in the country belongs to the government’s foreign investment arm.
Speaking at a press conference early on Wednesday, Khaled Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said that the money was far less than the $418.4 million that Swiss authorities said they had frozen, putting it closer to $29 million.
“The money in bank accounts abroad is part of the investment portfolio of the government abroad,” he told reporters. “If there is a single penny of the leader’s money … you are free to take it and to give it to anyone.”
On Monday, Swiss authorities said they had found 360 million Swiss francs ($418.4 million) of assets that were potentially illegal and belonged to either Muammar Gaddafi or his circle.
In July 2008, relations between Switzerland and Libya soured when Geneva police arrested Hannibal Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons, on charges of abusing two domestic employees. The charges were later dropped after a confidential settlement was reached with the victims.
At the time, Libya withdrew more than $5 billion from Swiss banks, halted oil exports to Switzerland and barred two Swiss businessmen who were working in Libya from leaving the country for more than a year.
Separately, Swiss authorities said that they had also traced about $473m traced to Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Egyptian president, and $69mn linked to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted Tunisian president, have also been identified, Lars Knuchel, a Swiss foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday.
“These amounts are frozen in Switzerland following blocking orders by the Swiss government related to potentially illegal assets in Switzerland,” Knuchel said.
He declined to name the banks in which the accounts or properties are held.
Mubarak has strenuously denied amassing wealth or stashing away funds in foreign bank accounts.
Both Tunisia and Egypt – where unrest led to the ousting of their respective leaders – are in touch with Swiss judicial authorities regarding their formal requests for legal assistance to seek return of the funds, according to Knuchel.
No such discussions are under way with authorities in Libya, where Gaddafi is clinging to power in the face of an uprising and NATO air raids.
Switzerland, a neutral nation, had previously announced that it was freezing any assets linked to the three north African leaders, thereby requiring financial and other institutions to report any suspicious funds.
Swiss authorities also froze assets belonging to Ivory Coast’s now deposed president, Laurent Gbagbo, in January.
Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten assets.
Its cabinet has previously taken blocked funds in accounts held by deposed leaders including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Nigeria’s late Sani Abacha, buying time for foreign prosecutors to build a case for restitution of funds.
Knuchel said that Switzerland had returned $800m held by Abacha to Nigeria, although it took four to five years to complete legal proceedings.
“It was a good example of restitution,” he said.
The Swiss finance ministry said earlier on Monday it had started proceedings to return assets of the former Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, frozen since 1986, to the Haitian government.