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Cablegate: Swiss Score in Libya: Hamdani Cleared of Immigration Charges

VZCZCXRO3201
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHTRO #0091 0321613
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O P 011613Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5756
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6311

S E C R E T TRIPOLI 000091

NOFORN SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND EUR/CE E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/1/2020

TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM CVIS SZ LY

SUBJECT: SWISS SCORE IN LIBYA: HAMDANI CLEARED OF IMMIGRATION CHARGES REF: A) TRIPOLI 73; B) TRIPOLI 58

CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(S/NF) Summary: In a January 31 ruling, the Libyan Immigration Court acquitted Swiss businessman Rachid Hamdani of immigration violations and lifted his 16-month prison sentence. Verdicts are expected in Swiss businessman Max Goeldi's immigration appeal, as well as the separate tax cases against the two men, by February 7. Swiss Charge Stefano Lazarotto is "cautiously optimistic" about Hamdani's victory and believes positive judicial decisions will facilitate progress to repair the Swiss-Libyan political relationship. The German Ambassador confirmed that the Swiss are willing to lift the ban on issuance of Schengen visas for Libyans if the two Swiss businessmen are released. Swiss hardball tactics on Schengen visas and the German-sponsored diplomatic initiative appear to be paying dividends. End Summary.

HAMDANI ACUITTED OF IMMIGRATION CHARGES

2.(C) Swiss Charge Stefano Lazarotto confirmed press reports that Swiss businessman Rachid Hamdani had been cleared of all immigration-related charges, and his 16-month prison sentence had been overturned in a January 31 ruling by the appeals court. Lazarotto said that Hamdani had attended the appeals hearing at the immigration court on January 24, accompanied by Lazarotto, the German Ambassador, a UK diplomat, and a Libyan MFA representative. Lazarotto said that Hamdani had been allowed to represent his case and was able to return to the Embassy after the trial. He credited the positive verdict in part to Hamdani's participation in the hearing. Lazarotto believed that with the verdict, the Swiss were "20% there and had 80% of the way to go" toward resolving the issue.

ONE MORE APPEAL AND TWO TAX VERDICTS TO GO

3.(C) Lazarotto noted that the second Swiss businessman, Max Goeldi, had attended his appeals trial at the immigration court on January 28 and expected to hear a verdict in that case on February 4. Goeldi was accompanied to his trial by the Swiss Charge, German Ambassador, diplomats from the Austrian, Spanish, and Danish embassies, and a Libyan MFA representative. The trial lasted about 40 minutes, the court provided interpretation, and Goeldi's lawyer was able to present oral and written arguments in his client's defense. Like Hamdani, Goeldi was allowed to return to the Swiss Embassy after the hearing. Although Lazarotto hoped for another positive outcome, he noted that the Swiss were still waiting on two verdicts from the tax court. The hearings for Goeldi and Hamdani on tax-related charges took place on January 30 and 31, respectively, which both men attended. Lazarotto related that they expect to receive verdicts before February 7, at which point "the picture will be much clearer."

FORWARD MOVEMENT ON POLITICAL TRACK

4.(S/NF) Resolution of the legal aspects of the Swiss-Libyan contretemps, according to Lazarotto, will facilitate progress toward piecing back together the bilateral political relationship. He said the latest development was "confidence building" and bolstered the Swiss Government's continued cautious optimism. The Germans have mediated two rounds of political talks to amend the situation, and Lazarotto expects a third round to be conducted in the near future. Separately, the German Ambassador also expressed increased optimism that the situation was nearly resolved. He told the Ambassador on January 26 that the German mediator, Ambassador Born, who has been designated by the Swiss as the negotiator with the Libyans, indicated that during his last visit here, Born was empowered to lift the visa freeze immediately if the Libyans would hand over the two Swiss businessmen and permit them to leave. The Libyans for "technical" reasons were not prepared to do that, but Born has been charged with returning to Libya with the same proposal. That trade would then set off a set of agreements leading to a return to normalization. The German Ambassador was not sure whether this potential resolution had yet been properly blessed by the Qadhafi family.

5.(S/NF) Comment: The German-sponsored diplomatic initiative, coupled with Swiss hardball tactics on Schengen visas for Libyan officials, appears to be paying dividends. If the legal rulings continue in a positive direction, they set the stage for an overall political solution to this 18-month drama. The recent legal rulings in favor of the two Swiss citizens could indicate that the necessary approvals from the Qadhafi family have been obtained. We will continue to monitor the situation. End comment. CRETZ

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