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Swiss Businessman Accuses Libya Of Kidnapping Amid Diplomatic Row

Swiss businessman Max Goeldi

Swiss businessman Max Goeldi

A Swiss businessman held for nearly two years in Libya amid a dispute over the foreign arrest of Muammar Qaddafi's son has accused Libyan authorities of kidnapping and holding him in solitary confinement.

Max Goeldi, the Swiss businessman who returned home on June 14 after being held for two years in Libya, insists that he is an innocent victim of a diplomatic dispute.

Goeldi, who ran the Libyan subsidiary of the Swiss-Swedish engineering group ABB, was arrested in July 2008 along with his compatriot Rachid Hamdani.

The two Swiss citizens were detained by Libyan authorities after police in Switzerland briefly arrested Muammar Qaddafi's son, Hannibal, on an Interpol warrant charging that he abused two of his domestic staff. Hannibal was released by Swiss authorities after his accusers dropped their charges against him.

But the dispute continued to escalate into a diplomatic conflict that drew in the European Union, the United States, and major energy firms.

As the ordeal for Hamdani and Goeldi continued, their supporters described their plight as a case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time.

It wasn't until February of this year, after being acquitted by Libyan judges, that Hamdani was allowed to return to Switzerland. But the Libyan judges found Goeldi guilty of violating visa laws and sent him to a prison where he remained for the last four months.

Safely back on Swiss soil, visibly shaken from his experience, Goeldi told reporters on June 14 that he was "a victim of a conflict" that he had nothing to do with.

"This is a very emotional moment for me and I ask you for your understanding. I am tired but very happy to finally be back in Switzerland," Goeldi said. "During the past 23 months I and my family lived experienced a lot of insecurity and fear. I have become the victim of a conflict which has nothing to do with me. To this day I do not feel guilty in any way."

Before his trial, Goeldi initially had paid bail and sought refuge at the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli. He says Libyan authorities last year ordered that he and Rachid Hamdani undergo medical tests in order to get permission to leave the country. But he says he was seized in front of his Swiss diplomatic escorts when he ventured out for those medical tests.

Goeldi says he and Hamdani were both placed in solitary detention, unable to speak to each other, their families or Swiss consular staff for almost two months. He says he was confined to a small, dark room of a house, where guards treated him "correctly" but refused to speak to him.

'The Uncertainty'

He said the worst part of his experience was "the uncertainty -- not knowing who one's captors are, what they want, or how long it will last." He said the experience has left psychological scars and that it is difficult to say when those scars would heal.

Officials at the Libyan Embassy in Bern could not be reached to comment on Goeldi's version of events. However, Libyan officials have in the past denied that his case had anything to do with Hannibal Qaddafi's arrest.

Amnesty International spokesman Daniel Graf said the international rights group was "very relieved." Amnesty International had campaigned for the release of Goeldi and Hamdani -- describing their prosecution by Libya as politically motivated.

Goeldi's release was made possible by a deal signed during the weekend between Switzerland and Libya. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey traveled to Tripoli along with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and German diplomatic officials to reach the agreement.

Libya's Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa announced during the signing that Hannibal Qaddafi had been awarded $1.5 million compensation by the local government in Geneva over his detention and the publication of police mug shots from his arrest.

Authorities in Geneva denied that any compensation was paid. But as part of the deal to free Goeldi, the Swiss government did make a formal apology for the publication in the "Tribune de Geneve" newspaper of the leaked photos -- which violated Qaddafi's confidentiality under Swiss law.

Written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports