Since 1993, Issayas Afeworki reign of terror on Eritrea, also nicknamed the North Korea of Africa. Then that the population does not think to flee, the president amassed patiently a nice nest egg, he discreetly placed abroad, including in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a popular destination for Eritreans. All the days, by tens, of refugees from this small State in the Horn of Africa piled up to the borders of the Ticino, seeking by all means to escape hell and gain freedom they have dreamed about for years. With over 2300 nationals arrived between April and June 2015, Eritrea is now the first country of origin of applicants for asylum in Switzerland.
But our nation is also appreciated for other reasons that its democracy. The Eritreans more affluent, close relatives of the dictator Issayas Afeworki, love to attend the banking institutions of the Swiss place to manage their affairs and enrich the pockets of their charismatic leader.
The weekly investigation shows that a portion of the revenue to Asmara from the illegal activities of the regime has transited through the accounts in Geneva and Zurich, including to UBS. The sums are in the tens of millions.
With less than 600 US dollars per capita and per year, Eritrea is one of the poorest countries of the world. The economy is traditionally based on a small agriculture, crops regularly affected by the drought. The mining sector is the only one in development.
The Canadian company Nevsun already operates gold and copper on site; other businesses, Chinese and Australian, are also on the rows. President since independence, won in 1993, Issayas Afeworki reign on his country with an iron hand, close control of the population, prohibiting the holding of elections, controlling all the sectors of the economy.
Great amateur of whisky, he is described as irascible and tyrannical. The young boys and girls of the country are compulsorily enlisted in the army for a service which has lasted almost the whole of life. The last report of Human Rights Watch describes a nightmarish system made of "conscription indefinite", forced labor, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention.
Some people are reduced to the status of slaves. Has such a point that all means are good for escape: these past five years, not less than 50 members of the national football team took advantage of games abroad to take the coop.
While his people cry famine, the dictator cashed the currency. This powerful man, age of 69 years, has put in place a system for juicy earn money, managed entirely by its close guard or the single party, appointed the Popular Front for justice and democracy (FPJD).
The latter has a sprawling organization and monopolistic, the Hidri Trust, which, itself, championing a series of firms active in the construction or the edition, including the Red Sea Trading Corporation.
Officially, this company works in the import and export of foodstuffs. In reality, it is also used to manage a financial circuit parallel and opaque, entirely for the benefit of the scheme. The control group of Eritrea, an institution which depends on the Security Council of the United Nations, wrote in his last report, end of 2014: "senior Eritrean officials continue to amass millions of dollars each year through fraudulent trading arrangements private through companies controlled by the FPJD in the country and abroad."
The report mentions of auditors in the DZ Bank or the Commerzbank. Some of the offshore companies are based in Cyprus, while Dubai is, in the opinion of the experts, the financial basis of Asmara.
For the control group, the revenues generated are "considerable". These funds have several origins: the commissions charged on the commercial benefits of corporations or big checks signed by the mining companies to the Asmara regime for having the right to exploit the soil of the country.
There is also the famous tax of 2% which must fulfill the Eritrean diaspora. A manna important, that the UN experts believe several tens of millions of dollars each year. More than 1.2 million Eritreans today live outside the country, 25% of its total population.
in addition to the work of the monitoring group, there is no document serious on the finance offshore of Eritrea. But the Hebdo has discovered that Asmara possessed however, until at least 2012, an account well filled to the UBS in Zurich. This money was kept well hidden until a complaint lodged with the International Court of Arbitration in London, end 2011, by Kuwait.
The reason? Asmara had not rule the 60 US millions of dollars it owed him in exchange for a shipment of oil. To get paid, the Kuwait dug up then this account well filed, No. 230-80110 -05D, on behalf of the Commercial Bank of Eritrea, one of the national banks.
The judgment of a court in Zurich, that we have consulted, confirmed the freezing of assets . Embarrassed, Asmara includes immediately the warning and is fulfilling its invoice shortly after in order to avoid that the story does transpire. An agreement between the two countries having been found, the Zurich fund will be finally released.
This is not the only trace of the Swiss Eritrean nest egg. During their citizens' detriment in the ranks of the army or in the mines, the senior dignitaries manage the money of the regime abroad. A mode of operation history, explained David Bozzini, Swiss researcher in the United States, who has lived two years in Eritrea and whose Ph.D. thesis on the monitoring and the suppression of conscripts.
"The Eritrean guerrilla already financed its activities by mobilizing those fleeing the war, before the independence. Came to power, the regime has pursued this policy and ensures its financial survival by capturing the resources of Eritreans living abroad and by monopolizing the economy."
There is more in these shadow areas. The money collection is not only to enrich his party and to avoid that a new revolution is triggered. The United Nations investigators assert: "In spite of its relative poverty, Eritrea has long been - and continues to be - a donor of funds to the armed opposition groups in the region, and even of the world."
It is thanks to its offshore accounts that it imported weapons from eastern Sudan and supports of the rebel movements in Somalia, in defiance of UN resolutions the prohibiting him.
As revealed in the operation SwissLeaks, several Eritrean also had accounts at HSBC Geneva, until at least 2007. The anonymous, rich to million. The control group the itemized in its report of 2011: the regime in Asmara is transiting the tickets through sympathizers domiciled in Italy, the United States or even in Switzerland. These people, officially taxi drivers or mechanics, serve as ready-names to the Eritrean cabinet.
In the SwissLeaks files that we have consulted, one of the account holders is named Yemane Ghebremeskel. Who is this man who had 300 000 francs among HSBC Geneva? The name, in any case, is the same as that of the current Minister of Information of Eritrea, The former head of the president's cabinet and the one that the diplomatic cables Americans describe as the right arm of Issayas Afeworki.
Contacted by e-mail, Yemane Ghebremeskel belies be the holder of this account. Another customer of HSBC Geneva would bring the same name as an employee of the Eritrean Embassy in Switzerland. But, here also, it is impossible to know if the two persons are the same. To manage its assets, the power of Asmara has woven a backdrop if fine and so great that it is difficult to sort out.
Issayas Afeworki, sometimes nicknamed the Caligula of Africa, does not win only money with the below table-recovered during commercial transactions. Its revenues also come from the trafficking of human beings.
Lured by the gain, some senior Eritrean staff members are in effect pay the equivalent of 3000 francs to deserters who wish to pass the border in search of a better life. The control group of the Security Council of the United Nations reveals that the product of this "clandestine transfer" is removal including on a bank account in Switzerland, the coordinator of this network are being basis.
Information, published in late 2011, has been transmitted for a long time to the Swiss authorities. What do they have decided? When questioned, the public prosecutor of the Confederation shows us that it is not involved in any investigation in this respect.
Switzerland is not pressed to ask the auditors to Issayas Afeworki and his clique. She is not the only one: to this day, according to our information, no investigation shall be initiated in the countries where the regime has of companies and banking relations. In 2009, the Security Council of the United Nations has yet issued an embargo on weapons as well as a series of sanctions against Eritrea, including a freezing of assets.
Bern has wisely issued an order which reflects these provisions in 2010. The problem is that no list of names or entities affected by these sanctions has yet been published by the United Nations ...
That which gives rise to a Kafkaesque situation, confirmed by the Secretariat of State for the economy: these sanctions are certainly in force, but, emptied of their substance, they remain inapplicable to the present time - in any case concerning the financial component.
In this context, considers the lawyer genevoise Sandrine Giroud, "Switzerland can hardly speak of his own leader for the confiscation of assets belonging to persons exposed politically which one could suspect that they have committed acts of corruption".
"With regard to banks, she says, they cannot notify the existence of assets of dubious origin that, in case of specific suspicions. Nothing prevents them however, to refuse to enter into relationship with persons or entities which may present a hazard or raise suspicions."
The case is highly diplomatic: To the extent or Issayas Afeworki is a head of State in exercise, it enjoys immunity. However, each time that it has blocked the accounts of potentates, Switzerland has waited that they be removed before acting.
It is easier to cure than to prevent! But, during that Bern remains to wait idly , Kuwait, to him, has not put that a few weeks ago to sequester the Zurich business assets of its debtor.
A commission of inquiry was appointed in June 2014 by the High Commissioner for human rights. The work of its members is already disrupted by the threats to which they are the subject of the share of close to power of Asmara.
Pending its conclusions, nothing changes: the dignitaries font go suitcases of tickets and the Eritrean citizens, poor, hit by thousands at the gates of Europe. Issayas Afeworki does not prevent them from doing: each refugee will actually enrich a little more.
In Switzerland, Didier Burkhalter, Minister of Foreign Affairs, called for a joint action of European governments to put pressure on Asmara. For William Bourdon, French lawyer specializing in "improperly acquired property", it is for each State to take its responsibilities.
"As a signatory to the Convention of Merida against corruption, Switzerland has the obligation to participate in the identification of financial funds which could be assimilated to improperly acquired property. She should investigate of office when there are presumptions, in order not to be an accomplice, passivity, the diversion of public resources foreign."
"Bern must pronounce effective sanctions"
For Carlo Sommaruga, national adviser (PS/ GE) and president of the Commission of foreign policy of the national council, it is time to freeze assets held in Switzerland by the Eritrean power. The investigation of "Hebdo" shows that the regime in Asmara has several million in the Swiss banks. What do you think?
On the one hand, some parties complain that the Asmara regime levied a tax on the incomes of its Diaspora. On the other, it is discovered that the product of this tax is partly placed in Swiss institutions. There is a big contradiction there.
According to you, is it that Bern froze the assets Eritrean placed in Switzerland?
It is unacceptable that the money of one of the worst dictatorships in the world is located in Switzerland. That is why I believe that Bern must pronounce effective sanctions. Didier Burkhalter said recently that he had to take common measures with other European countries. Then let us take them, these measures! And do not forget to take into account the financial aspect of the problem.
Translation: Babylon website