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Cablegate: Libyan Immigration Court Sentences Swiss to 16 Months in Prison

VZCZCXRO4316
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHTRO #0942/01 3351721
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 011721Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5514
INFO RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN IMMEDIATE 0054
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6064

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000942

NOFORN SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/1/2019

TAGS: PREL PHUM SZ LY

SUBJECT: LIBYAN IMMIGRATION COURT SENTENCES SWISS TO 16 MONTHS IN PRISON REF: A) TRIPOLI 900, B) TRIPOLI 901, C) TRIPOLI 910, D) BERN 504 TRIPOLI 00000942 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Joan A. Polaschik, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(S/NF) Summary: The two detained Swiss citizens, now held in Libya for approximately 16 months, were each sentenced to16 months in prison by a Libyan immigration court on November 30. According to Swiss Charge Stefano Lazarotto, the Swiss citizens, who were sentenced in absentia, most likely will not leave the embassy to attend hearings for tax-related violations, scheduled for December 5 and

6. Concerned that the Libyans might up the ante and declare him persona non grata, Lazarotto requested December 1 that the U.S. Embassy provide material assistance to the detained Swiss if/if that were to occur. Lazarotto said he had been instructed by Bern to make the request of our embassy and several EU embassies in Tripoli. Given other sensitive issues currently pending on the bilateral agenda, we believe a visible U.S. role in assisting the Swiss could be highly detrimental to our own interests. Department's guidance is requested. End Summary.

2.(C) Swiss Charge Stefano Lazarotto expressed his continued concern to Pol/Econ Chief November 30 about the welfare of the two detained Swiss citizens, who have not been allowed to the leave Libya for over 16 months. Earlier the same day, an immigration judge sentenced each of the two men, in absentia, to 16 months in prison. Lazarotto related that the lawyer for the Swiss appeared before the court alone November 30, to request a formal statement of the immigration charges; the judge refused, claiming that the Swiss had appeared before his court shortly after their release from Libyan custody on November 9. The judge said he had heard their arguments at that time and had informed them that he would issue a sentence the following week. According to Lazarotto, the lawyer argued that to sentence the accused without a proper trial and without the presence of legal counsel, was a miscarriage of justice -- an argument that was lost on the judge. The Swiss have asked their lawyer to file an appeal to the decision.

3.(C) Lazarotto said that the Swiss were prepared to appear before the court on November 30, but were advised by their lawyer not to go unless they were assured that a proper trial would take place. According to Lazarotto, three representatives of (unspecified) EU embassies were prepared to accompany the detained citizens to the trial. Lazarotto noted that three additional EU embassy officials had been "on standby." [Note: A UK political officer told poloff November 25 that the EU embassies had decided to send lower-level representation, if any, to the Swiss hearings, but that the decision to send a representative would be made by the individual embassies. End note.]

4.(C) Given the sentence, the Swiss citizens most likely will not attend hearings before the tax court, scheduled for December 5 and 6, although they have been provided with a copy of the tax-related charges held against them. Lazarotto noted that execution of the sentence would pose a threat to other foreign business interests in Libya, demonstrating that the GOL was willing to exact retribution on businesspeople in response to political disagreements. [Note: A few General Managers of U.S. companies operating in Libya recently expressed similar concerns. End note.]

5.(S/NF) In a separate meeting on December 1, Lazarotto informed Pol/Econ Chief that he had been discussing with Bern the various worst-case scenarios that could come now that a sentence has been issued. He expressed his fear that the Libyans could declare him persona non grata if he did not hand the detained Swiss over to Libyan authorities, although he claimed that he had not been threatened in such a way. Lazarotto noted that in a meeting several weeks ago with the MFA, he was told that the GOL would do "anything" to make sure that the detained Swiss completed their sentences once verdicts were reached. Lazarotto was accused in the same meeting of trying to help the Swiss escape. Lazorotto continued that this hypothetical situation would remove the last Swiss diplomat from the country and would effectively force the detained citizens to leave the protection of the embassy premises when their food supply ran out. In order to protect the Swiss citizens, Lazarotto explained that Bern had instructed him to request third-country commitments of assistance to deliver food supplies and to monitor their health and well-being. He confided that he did not expect a single embassy to respond positively to the request. Pol/Econ Chief undertook to convey the request but did not offer any promises of assistance.

6.(C) Lazarotto did not believe the Libyans were interested in moving forward with the bilateral relationship. Instead, Lazarotto surmised that the GOL was now focused on pressuring EU countries not to support the Swiss, rather than achieving a TRIPOLI 00000942 002.2 OF 002 bilateral resolution. He explained that the EU ambassadors had been convened by the Foreign Minister November 29 to hear his complaints about Switzerland's continued use of its Schengen veto on Libyan visa applicants and how that would negatively affecting larger EU interests.

7.(S/NF) Comment: The sentencing of the Swiss businessmen without trial underscores the serious shortcomings in Libya's judicial systems and will send a chilling warning to foreign investors. In the wake of this escalating, high-profile dispute, the Swiss-Libyan political relationship continues its downward spiral. The recent Swiss move to ban Libya from the World Economic Forum will not improve matters, and it is not outside of the realm of possibility that the Swiss Charge could be asked to leave the country. If/if the Swiss Charge is in fact PNG'ed, we believe that a direct USG role in providing assistance to the Swiss citizens could be detrimental to our own bilateral interests. Although we appreciate the gravity of the humanitarian situation, we believe a visible U.S. role in assisting the Swiss could undermine our efforts to resolve the outstanding HEU shipment. Department's guidance on the Swiss request for support is requested. End comment. POLASCHIK

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