Saturday, February 6, 2010
According to Philanthropy Today and the Washington Post, the Swiss high court published an opinion on Wednesday requiring that $4.6 million previously committed to charities by the Swiss government, be returned to the family of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The former dictator is thought to have stolen millions in public funds before fleeing in exile in 1986. The $4.6 million is a portion of the millions that Haiti alleges Duvalier stole during his time in power.
The Haitian government first requested the return of the money to Haiti in 1986; however, Swiss law only permits the return of funds when asked for by a national government that is pursuing its own criminal investigation (Haiti was not pursuing such an investigation against Duvalier at that time). The funds have been frozen since 1986 and the Swiss government had proposed giving them to aid groups working in Haiti.
The high court’s decision overturned a recent lower court ruling permitting the release of the funds to aid organizations working in Haiti, in accordance with the Swiss government’s proposal. The high court stated that while it was not happy about the decision, its hands were legally tied because the lower court’s ruling was barred by the statute of limitations, which had expired on Duvalier’s crimes.
The high court reached its decision on January 12, prior to the devastating earthquake, but the opinion was not reported until this week. The Swiss government is deeply concerned about the court’s decision and has issued an emergency decree freezing the return of any funds to Duvalier pending passage of a law to undo the high court’s ruling.