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Switzerland to extend freeze on Mobutu assets

GENEVA, Feb 26 – Switzerland said it would freeze for two more months 7.7 million francs (5.2 million euros, 6.6 million dollars) worth of assets belonging to the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his regime.

Without the extension, the Swiss fortune of the former leader of Zaire — now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo would have been returned to Mobutu\’s inheritors at the end of this month, when the current freezing order ends.

On January 23 however, the government in Kinshasa filed a criminal complaint with Switzerland against Mobutu\’s regime and his family members, alleging their involvement in a criminal organization.

If the complaint is successful, it could lead to the confiscation of the assets, said the Swiss Foreign Ministry in a statement.

"As the examination of the case is a time-consuming task, the Federal Council considered it necessary to order a further extension to the final freezing, i.e. until 30 April 2009," said the Swiss foreign ministry.

Mobutu came to power in a 1965 coup, five years after the central African nation gained independence from Belgium.

He ruled Zaire for 32 years, plunging the country into a long economic crisis marked by state corruption, the embezzlement of funds and excessive luxuries.

Mobutu was overthrown in May 1997 by Laurent Kabila, the father of the current president Joseph, and died of cancer a few months later while in exile in Morocco.

Swiss authorities froze the money shortly after Mobutu was ousted from power.

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Swiss newspaper NZZ had reported that Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey wrote to Joseph Kabila late last year urging him to decide on what to do with the funds.

Swiss authorities also tried without success to contact Mobutu\’s inheritors to ask them to relinquish their share of the money, the newspaper added.

According to NZZ, Congolese officials have remained silent on the matter because Mobutu\’s son, Nzanga Mobutu, is one of the country\’s deputy prime ministers.

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