Gambia case: Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland takes over the investigation
Bern, 06.02.2017 - The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland is taking over the ongoing criminal proceedings against a former Gambian government minister, in response to a formal request by the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Bern to accept jurisdiction.
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has considered the request made by the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Bern on 1 February 2017 to accept jurisdiction in an investigation the Canton of Bern had opened against a former Gambian government minister. The OAG takes the view that the elements presented in the request would not rule out a suspicion of crimes against humanity; since 2011, these international offences have been subject to federal jurisdiction. Accordingly, the OAG is taking over the ongoing criminal investigation. As always, the presumption of innocence applies in these criminal proceedings.
The OAG was notified on 29 November 2016 by the Swiss Federal Office of Police fedpol that the former Gambian interior minister had applied for asylum in Switzerland on 10 November 2016. The following day, the OAG’s Mutual Legal Assistance and International Criminal Law Section instructed fedpol to conduct a preliminary investigation. In addition, various matters were clarified with international partners, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). Legal issues relating to jurisdiction were examined, in particular the question of federal jurisdiction for the offences concerned under international criminal law. The initial enquiries at that time revealed no grounds for making an arrest.
However, based on a criminal complaint filed by the TRIAL International, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Bern opened criminal proceedings on 26 January 2017. On 28 January, a court ordered that the former Gambian minister be remanded in pre-trial detention. With these events, and the request by Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Bern to accept jurisdiction, which was received by the OAG on 1 February 2017, the situation has changed. The criminal complaint filed by TRIAL International, however, does not make any allegations of crimes against humanity, an international crime which would require “a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population” (Art. 264a Swiss Criminal Code (SCC)). Instead, it appears that the complainant deliberately chose to make allegations of, among others, serious assault (Art. 122 SCC), coercion (Art. 181 SCC), false imprisonment (Art. 183 SCC), offences for which jurisdiction lies with the competent cantonal prosecution authorities.
Moreover, it appears that TRIAL International gathered valuable information relevant to the criminal proceedings. In addition, the political situation in the Gambia has fundamentally changed in recent weeks, which will have implications for the functioning of the Gambian justice system and possibly for any cooperation with the Swiss prosecution authorities. As a result of this new information and developments, and following discussions between the Attorney General of Switzerland and the Chief Public Prosecutor for the Canton of Bern, the OAG decided to take over the criminal investigation.
The OAG will continue its investigations in the coming weeks and until the end of the three-month period of remand authorised by the court, in particular with a view to establishing whether there are sufficient grounds to establish crimes against humanity under Art. 264a SCC. Until that time, the OAG will not be issuing any further information on the case.
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Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland