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Libya frees one Swiss business man, jails another.

Summary: One of two Swiss businessmen held in Libya for 19 months amid a diplomatic row between the two states left for home on Monday as the other man emerged from his country's embassy to serve time in

One of two Swiss businessmen held in Libya for 19 months amid a diplomatic row between the two states left for home on Monday as the other man emerged from his country's embassy to serve time in jail.

Rashid Hamdani travelled overland to neighboring Tunisia after coming out of the embassy, where the pair had taken shelter, and receiving an exit visa from Libyan authorities, their lawyer Salah Zahaf said.

Max Goeldi, the other businessman, was later seen emerging from the diplomatic mission, handcuffed and put in a civilian car which was escorted away by two police vehicles, an AFP journalist said. Zahaf said earlier that he expected Goeldi to be taken to Ain Zara prison near Tripoli, insisting however that he would apply for a pardon.

Several dozen Libyan police had encircled the mission since late on Sunday in the countdown to the handover, witnesses said.

The pair have been caught in a bitter diplomatic row between Tripoli and Bern since the brief arrest in July 2008 of Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, at a Geneva hotel with his wife.

Surrender after ultimatum

Goeldi surrendered following an ultimatum by the Libyan authorities to

the Swiss embassy to hand him over by midday on Monday to serve a four-month jail sentence or face measures.

"He will leave the embassy and turn himself in voluntarily," Zahaf told AFP earlier.

Goeldi, a senior manager at Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB, will be held in a prison open to visitors and where he can receive medical care and the services of a translator, Zahaf said.

The official Jana news agency quoted Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa as saying that by giving Goeldi refuge in its embassy in Tripoli, Switzerland had been in violation of international conventions on diplomatic immunity.

"Procedures will be taken in the event that the embassy does not implement what is required of it by the deadline," the news agency reported. No details were given of what action the Libyan authorities had planned to take.

Switzerland on Monday said host countries must assure the security of foreign representatives.

"We are still working towards a solution. Furthermore, the security of foreign representations is always the responsibility of host countries," a statement said.

The businessman faces the four-month sentence, reduced from an earlier 16-month term, for overstaying his visa and an $800 fine for illegal business activities.

Strained relations

Relations between Libya and Switzerland have been strained since Hannibal Gaddafi was arrested in Geneva after two domestic workers complained he had mistreated them.

The row escalated when Libya swiftly detained and confiscated the passports of Hamdani and Goeldi, and deepened again last year when a tentative deal between the two countries fell apart.

Goeldi and Hamdani were both convicted of identical charges but an appeal court dropped the charges against Hamdani.

Last week, the Libyan authorities returned Hamdani's passport but without the necessary exit visa.

A condition for obtaining the visa was that Hamdani be declared free of any tax obligations, which normally would require clearance by an official after examining the status of Hamdani's company, PME Suisse.

The row between Libya and Switzerland took a new turn earlier this month -- and expanded to include other European countries -- when Tripoli decided to deny entry to citizens of Europe's 25-state Schengen free-travel zone.

The move was in retaliation for visa restrictions by Switzerland, which is a member of the Schengen zone.

Switzerland last autumn reportedly listed 186 senior Libyans, including Gaddafi and the foreign minister, who would be denied access to Swiss territory.

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:6LIBY
Date:Feb 21, 2010
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