Swiss businessman held in Libya returns home

Amnesty International has welcomed the safe return home of a Swiss businessman, who served a four month prison sentence in Libya and who had been effectively banned from leaving the country since 2008.Max Goeldi was convicted of politically motivated immigration charges in February. Prior to his conviction, he had been the subject of a travel ban as a result of a diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland over the arrest of the son of Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi.Max Goeldi arrived at Zurich airport on Sunday after being released from prison on Thursday. His family have thanked Amnesty International for the support provided while Max Goeldi was trapped in Libya. “We are very pleased that Max Goeldi and his family have been reunited after some two years. Max Goeldi was a casualty of the diplomatic row between Switzerland and Libya and was targeted because of his nationality,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.Both Max Goeldi and another Swiss businessman, Rachid Hamdani, were held by the Libyan authorities in July 2008, following the brief arrest in Switzerland of the son of Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi.The two men were released on bail and banned from leaving the country. They were arrested again in September 2009 and detained incommunicado for over 50 days before being released again.They were tried this February while sheltering in the Swiss embassy in Tripoli.On 6 February 2010, Max Goeldi was sentenced to four months in prison for allegedly breaching immigration regulations. He was also convicted of breaching commercial regulations and fined 1000 dinars (about US$800).The following day, Rachid Hamdani was cleared of charges of breaking commercial regulations and was given permission to leave the country on 22 February 2010.Hamdani had won an appeal against his conviction on immigration charges on 31 January.Relations between the two countries soured significantly after the Swiss police arrested Hannibal al-Gaddafi, son of Libyan President Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, and his wife on 15 July 2008 in Geneva. The charges against Hannibal al-Gaddafi were since dropped. The Libyan authorities decided to withhold entry visas to all European citizens covered by the Schengen agreement – a move applicable to 24 countries in addition to Switzerland. That followed reports in a newspaper closely linked to Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, another son of the Libyan leader, that the Swiss government had banned 188 Libyan citizens, including Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi from entering the country.In March 2010, the EU issued a statement indicating that these names have been permanently removed from the black-list and apologized for the inconvenience caused.