Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Expiration of the asset freeze in the context of Tunisia

The Federal Council ordered a freeze on any assets of ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali and his entourage on 19 January 2011. Subsequently, a judicial cooperation between Tunisia and Switzerland was established. Within the framework of this cooperation, the judicial authorities ordered additional asset freezes. As a result, the expiration of the Federal Council's freezing order as of midnight on 18 January 2021 does not necessarily mean that the assets in question will be released.

Illustration with symbols representing the freezing of illegal assets.

The Federal Council’s asset freeze in the context of Tunisia has reached its statutory maximum duration of ten years. © FDFA

The Federal Council’s asset freeze has served its purpose

At the beginning of 2011, the Federal Council responded immediately to the Arab uprisings by ordering, as a preventive measure, a freeze on any assets of ousted President Ben Ali and his entourage in the amount of approximately CHF 60 million.

The main objective of the freezing order was to prevent the assets in Switzerland from being removed. It also gave the new authorities in Tunisia time to establish judicial cooperation with their Swiss counterpart and to advance this cooperation under the best possible conditions. The freeze of the Federal Council served therefore its purpose to support the judicial cooperation between Tunisia and Switzerland.

No immediate release of the vast majority of the assets

The Federal Council's freezing order will expire in the night of 18 to 19 January 2021 at midnight, as it will reach its statutory maximum duration of ten years. This does not necessarily mean that the assets in question will be released. The expiration of the Federal Council's freezing order has no effect on the asset freezes imposed by the judicial authorities in connection with pending national criminal and mutual legal assistance proceedings. The vast majority of the assets frozen by the Federal Council were subject to two levels of freezing: first, by the Federal Council's freezing order and second, by the asset-freezing measures ordered by the mutual legal assistance authorities. This means that while the first level of freezing (by the Federal Council) will no longer be in effect as of 19 January 2021, the vast majority of the assets in question will remain frozen under mutual legal assistance proceedings (second level). 

Essential international cooperation

Cooperation between the Swiss and Tunisian judicial authorities has made it possible to exchange a large amount of evidence. However, confiscation judgments attesting to the illicit origin of the assets in Switzerland or settlement agreements approved by the Tunisian judicial authorities are required for a larger-scale restitution of the assets. As a result, the restitution of the assets in question now depends on how Tunisian criminal proceedings and judicial cooperation progress.

The expiration of the Federal Council's freezing order does not alter Switzerland's willingness to return assets proven to have been acquired illicitly. Switzerland will continue to support the asset recovery process.

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