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Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2007
                 
Freeze extended on former Haiti dictator Baby Doc's millions by a year
                                     
By The Associated Press

BERN, Switzerland: The Swiss government has extended a freeze on bank accounts linked to former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, an official said Wednesday.

The accounts, which were due to be released to Duvalier's family at the end of August, will remain blocked for a further year, government spokesman Oswald Sigg said after a meeting of the seven-member Cabinet in Bern.

They contain 7.6 million Swiss francs (US$6.3 million; ‚4.7 million) that many in Haiti consider to have been stolen from public funds before Duvalier was ousted in 1986 something he has always denied.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat said the extension followed assurances by Haiti that the Caribbean nation would initiate proceedings against Duvalier "in the near future" a necessary step for Switzerland to confiscate the funds.

Lawyers for victims of the Duvalier regime are trying to prevent his family from gaining access to the money, arguing it should instead be returned to the Haitian people.

A Geneva lawyer acting on behalf of two Haitians awarded US$1.75 million in damages against Duvalier by a U.S. court in 1988 welcomed the Swiss government's decision.

Marc Henzelin said his firm also was informed Wednesday that a separate freeze of one of the accounts imposed by a Geneva cantonal (state) court in May had been confirmed by the local tribunal.

The court ruling affects only one of the accounts, "but almost all the assets are in this account," he said.

The Swiss government agreed in June to a limited, three-month extension of the freeze first imposed in 2002 to allow for further negotiations with the Duvalier family and to prevent any of the funds being returned to the former dictator now living in exile in France via a complicated chain of offshore trusts and companies controlled by his relatives.

Switzerland's supreme court ruled last year that an indefinite freeze on privately owned funds was unconstitutional. The case involved 8 million francs (US$6.6 million; ‚4.9 million)

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