Swiss advance bid to return $40 million stolen from Tunisia

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) — A Swiss official says his country has made headway toward returning some $40 million that was stolen from the Tunisian state and has been sitting in Swiss banks since Tunisia's longtime regime collapsed in the Arab Spring uprising.

Valentin Zellweger, a legal adviser to the Swiss government, said Monday the federal prosecutor and highest court still have to take steps in the restitution case, but that the process has come a long way.

Zellweger declined to specify who had deposited the money in Switzerland, but said it wasn't former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia during the 2011 uprising.

"In the Tunisian case, we are pretty well advanced," he told reporters in Bern.

Switzerland is preparing legislation on the restitution of funds stolen by powerful people and kept in Swiss banks — once notorious as favored monetary hideaways among dictators.

Zellweger estimated that thousands of such "politically exposed persons" currently have accounts of that kind in Switzerland.

He and other Swiss officials say their country is at the forefront of such restitution efforts around the world, having returned some $1.8 billion in so-called "potentate funds" in the last three decades — including money once in the hands of former dictators like Nigeria's Sani Abacha and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

In March, Swiss authorities announced their country would hand over more than $120 million to Brazil that was frozen as part of corruption probes involving Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras.

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