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Swiss Freeze Mobutuís Assets; Reports Put Worth at $4 Billion

By William Drozdiak
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 18, 1997; Page A21

BERLIN, May 17óThe Swiss government announced today that it was freezing for one year all assets held in the name of Zaireís deposed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and members of his family.

In a prepared statement, the Swiss government said it was impounding all of Mobutuís assets in the wake of his "departure" from Kinshasa because it signified that "henceforth he no longer carries out the function of President of Zaire."

The decision by the Swiss Federal Council came a day after judicial and police authorities seized his luxurious villa at Savigny near the lakeside resort of Lausanne. The 30-room mansion is estimated to have a market value of more than $5 million.

After three decades of plundering the mineral wealth of his country, Mobutu is believed to have accumulated an enormous fortune. There have been persistent reports that he has stashed as much as $4 billion in Switzerland, but a government review of the countryís 400 banks last week said that none reported having accounts in his name.

Jean Ziegler, a Swiss Socialist politician and prominent critic of his countryís banking practices, said it would be preposterous to accept the word of Swiss banks that claim not to hold any of Mobutuís assets. He said there is substantial evidence that Switzerlandís leading banks long have served as a safe haven for the stolen fortunes of Third World dictators such as Mobutu, Manuel Noriega of Panama and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. More than a decade after Marcos was ousted, and eight years after his death, the Swiss government still is negotiating with the Philippines over an estimated $500 million held under his name. The Swiss president recently went to the Philippines, and said he wanted to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

The Swiss injunctions were handed down after Mobutu left Kinshasa Friday on the first leg of a journey into exile. Moroccan officials said tonight that Mobutu and his family would arrive at Rabat airport this evening and stay at a seaside hotel not far from the Skhirat palace of King Hassan II.

The action came after repeated demands by the rebel forces of Laurent Kabila, who now have taken power in Zaire, to impound all of Mobutuís assets before they could be moved out of the country. Under the Swiss order, the estate and any other holdings in the Mobutu family name cannot be sold or transferred until further notice.

Matthias Kraaft, a Swiss government spokesman, said the order in no way implies recognition of a new Zairian government, even though it was issued in response to a formal request from a public prosecutor in Lubumbashi, where Kabila has his headquarters.

Kabilaís representatives in Europe have said they might seek Mobutuís extradition if he settles in Morocco or France. They also have raised the possibility of setting up an international tribunal to hold him accountable for the manner in which he pillaged the nationís wealth during nearly 32 years in power.

The Swiss government said the decree was "a provisional measure" that would immediately freeze all holdings located in or administered from Switzerland. The managers of the Mobutu family assets were ordered to report to the federal Finance Ministry.

Kraaft said the Swiss move did not imply the government knew how much of his wealth still may be in the country. He said it was unclear whether funds were hidden through false identities or front companies.

Swiss officials have asked federal banking regulators to conduct another search of the banks to determine if Mobutu masked his wealth under other identities or companies.

A recent investigation by the Financial Times found that Mobutu was the principal owner of at least 20 properties scattered in Europe with a minimum assessed value of $37 million. The newspaper said a precise accounting was impossible because "much of the property is held in the names of front companies, business associates and family members not using the Mobutu name."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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