GENEVA, (AP) – A Swiss businessman detained nearly two years in Libya amid a dispute over the arrest of Moammar Gadhafi’s son accused Libyan authorities Monday of kidnapping and holding him and a Swiss colleague in solitary confinement for 53 days.
Max Goeldi claimed Libyan authorities ordered that he and Rachid Hamdani undergo medical tests in order to get permission to leave the country a year after their first arrest in July 2008, and seized them in front of their Swiss diplomatic escorts.
They were placed in solitary detention, unable to speak to each other, their families or Swiss consular staff for almost two months, Goeldi said. He was confined to a small, dark room of a house, where guards treated him “correctly” but refused to speak to him, he said.
“During the time of the kidnapping, those 53 days, no communication was possible,” Goeldi told reporters in Bern just hours upon returning to Switzerland after being held in Libya for 695 days. “Of course I wrote letters, but they were never forwarded.”
Officials at the Libyan Embassy in Bern could not be reached for comment.
“The worst thing was the uncertainty,” Goeldi said. “Not knowing who one’s captors are, what they want, how long it will last.”
The men were released in November and ordered to stand trial on charges of violating residency laws and operating a business illegally. Hamdani was acquitted by a court in February, while Goeldi was sentenced to serve four months in prison.
Goeldi was allowed to leave Libya following a flurry of diplomatic activity Sunday that saw Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey travel to Tripoli along with Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German diplomatic officials to secure the businessman’s release.
Switzerland paid $1.5 million for mistreating Hannibal Gadhafi during his 2008 arrest and apologized for the publication of mugshots of the Libyan leader’s son.
But the Swiss failure to end the dispute on its own has led some commentators to question whether the country can defend its interests without help from more powerful European nations.
Sunday’s deal between Switzerland and Libya was also signed by German and Spanish government representatives, and foresees the establishment of an “arbitration tribunal” in Germany.
In a statement, Goeldi’s family told of its “indescribable” joy at his return. Amnesty International spokesman Daniel Graf said he was “very relieved.” The group had campaigned for the release of Goeldi and Hamdani, describing their prosecution by Libya as politically motivated.
The two men were detained in July 2008, days after Hannibal Gadhafi and his wife were arrested for allegedly beating their servants in a Geneva luxury hotel.
The Gadhafis were released without charge, but Libya’s anger quickly escalated. It suspended visas for Swiss citizens, withdrew funds from Swiss banks, stopped oil shipments and reduced flights to Switzerland.
In February Moammar Gadhafi called on Muslims to wage jihad, or holy war, against Switzerland, later accusing the country of behaving like a criminal organization involved in money laundering, assassinations and terrorism.
European countries with economic ties to the North African nation intervened when Switzerland tried to ban Libyan officials from obtaining visas to Europe, forcing Bern to back down.