Libya to hold 2nd trial for Swiss businessmen

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 8:42 AM

Two Swiss businessmen sentenced to 16 months in jail and a fine for violating residency and labor laws will now face trial for illegal economic activities later this month, a Libyan official said Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry official said the two face charges of conducting commercial activities in Libya without a license.

The trial is scheduled for Dec. 15, he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case with the media.

The businessmen _ identified as Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani _ were detained in July 2008 on alleged visa violations _ days after Swiss police arrested Hannibal Gadhafi, the son of Libya's leader, and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants in a Geneva hotel.

The businessmen's sentence from their first conviction, which included a $1,500 fine, comes amid furor in the Muslim world over a referendum to outlaw the construction of minarets in mosques in Switzerland.

Tuesday's speedy trial was held with no foreign diplomats or reporters in the court. The two men were also not present in court, according to their lawyer.

The Libyan official said the two men have a week to appeal their first sentence.

But the trials are set to strain relations between the two countries further.

Swiss lawmakers protested the conviction, some calling for breaking off diplomatic relations with Libya, while others hoped for a Libyan presidential pardon.

Socialist parliamentarian Mario Fehr said more time should be given to diplomacy, but his nationalist colleague Christoph Moergeli offered a harder course of action.

"We must now protest in every way against the decision," Moergeli said, adding that Switzerland should apply more pressure on Libya.

The Alpine country should also consider breaking off diplomatic relations with Libya, he said.

Christian Democrat lawmaker Eugen David said that Goeldi and Hamdani should not be handed over from the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, which enjoys protection under international law.

The men were handed over to the Swiss embassy in Tripoli earlier in November, triggering expectations they would be released and allowed to return home. The two spent 20 days behind, bars which will be subtracted from their 16 month sentence.

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.

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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 Switzerland.

Merz told state television Wednesday he was surprised by the long sentence handed down to the men by the Libyan court, particularly since they have already been held in Libya for more than 16 months.

Asked whether the Swiss government would continue to restrict visas for Libyans wanting to enter the Europe-wide, passport-free travel zone, he said: "All measures are possible and can also be reversed."

Tuesday's 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.

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AP Writer Balz Bruppacher contributed to this report from Bern.


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