Trial of Swiss businessmen postponed

AP News
Posted: Jan 03, 2010 9:12 AM

A Libyan court has postponed the second trial of two Swiss businessmen accused of illegal economic activity, the attorney of one of the men said Sunday.

The two _ Rachid Hamdani and Max Goeldi _ were detained in 2008, 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 scandal that followed has sorely taxed Libyan-Swiss relations.

Hamdani's lawyer, Saleh al-Zahif, said his client failed to appear in court Sunday, prompting the postponement of his trial for Jan. 17. The attorney provided no details.

The two businessmen were already sentenced last month to 16 months and fined $1,500 each for violating Libya's residency rules. Both appealed that verdict and have been allowed to stay at the Swiss embassy in Tripoli pending the second trial. No date has been set for the appeal.

"Psychologically, they feel more comfortable at the embassy, though there is nothing that might harm them outside it," al-Zahif said.

The hearings for the two are separate. On Saturday, Goeldi didn't appear in court for his trial on the illegal economic activity charges, leading to a postponement for Jan. 16.

Switzerland has demanded the two businessmen be allowed to return home.

Hannibal Gadhafi was held for two days in Geneva before being allowed to return to Libya. 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.

Besides 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.