Libya sentences Swiss businessmen to 16 months

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2009 2:56 PM

A Libyan court convicted on Tuesday two Swiss businessmen of violating residency and labor laws and sentenced them to 16 months in jail with a $1,500 fine, a Libyan official said.

The two were detained in July 2008 on alleged visa violations _ days after Swiss police arrested Hannibal Gadhafi and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants in a Geneva luxury hotel. The sentence comes amid furor in the Muslim world over a referendum to outlaw the construction of minarets in mosques in Switzerland.

The official said the two were tried by a court in Tripoli. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

No foreign diplomats or reporteres were allowed at the trial.

The businessmen _ identified as Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani _ were handed over to the Swiss embassy in Tripoli earlier in November, triggering expectations they would be released and allowed to return home.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry confirmed sentences and said the men were tried in absention and still in the embassy.

Earlier, the Libyan official said the two were present at the one day trial and were taken immediately to a prison to serve their terms. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.

The official said the men have the right to appeal.

Hannibal Gadhafi was held for two days in Geneva before being allowed to return home. The complaint was eventually dropped after the two servants received compensation from an undisclosed source.

Switzerland apologized for the manner of the arrest and opened itself to possible compensation claims as part of the August agreement reached in Tripoli, but later suspended the deal after repeated attempts to secure the release of Goeldi and Hamdani failed.

Libya has called on Switzerland not to make any links between the case and the issue of the "aggression" on the son of the Libyan leader.

The saga has badly damaged relations between the two countries and prompted calls in Switzerland for the resignation of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who staked his credibility on the men's release.

In addition to detaining the men, Libya recalled some of its diplomats from Switzerland, suspended visas for Swiss citizens, withdrew funds from Swiss banks, stopped crude oil shipments and reduced flights to the Alpine country.

Tuesday's speedy trial come two days after 57.5 percent of the Swiss population approved the ban on the minarets. Although The Swiss government opposed the initiative, the move has sparked an outcry across the Muslim world.