Press chokes on bitter pill of Libyan apology

Published on, by Tim Neville of, 22 August 2009.
President Hans-Rudolf Merz’s apology to Libya for the “unjustified” 2008 arrest of leader Moammar Gaddafi’s son and daughter-in-law has irked the Swiss media.

Geneva police took Hannibal Gaddafi and his pregnant wife into custody on charges of beating their servants. They were later released on bail, but Tripoli limited trade, stopped flights and held two Swiss nationals. Hannibal talked of dropping a nuclear bomb on the country. 

The criminal charges were eventually dropped but the matter quickly turned into a diplomatic quagmire that left Switzerland standing increasingly alone. The Gaddafi clan demanded an apology, which it finally got on Thursday after significant Swiss resistance.

The government offered an “official and public apology for the unjustified and unnecessary arrest” in an agreement signed in Tripoli.

That had editorial writers in western Switzerland seething. The country’s leading French-language newspapers lamented the fact that the Switzerland was forced to its knees for upholding its own laws. Perhaps more troubling was the fact that no friendly country rose to Switzerland’s side, they said …


  • July 15, 2008: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife Aline are arrested at a Geneva hotel after police receive reports that they have mistreated two servants.
  • July 17: After two nights in detention, the couple are charged with inflicting physical injuries and using threats and force against the servants. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland.
  • July 19: Two Swiss nationals are arrested in Libya. Swiss businesses are forced to close their offices and the number of Swiss flights to Tripoli is cut.
  • July 23: Libya threatens to stop crude oil deliveries to Switzerland. Bern forms a task force and sends a delegation to Libya.
  • July 29: Two Swiss nationals arrested in Libya are released from jail.
  • August 13-16: A Libyan delegation arrives in Switzerland for talks.
  • September 2: The servants withdraw their complaint after reaching a financial arrangement with Hannibal, ending the legal process.
  • October 10-12: Reports say Libya is to stop oil deliveries and withdraw its deposits in Swiss banks, but it is later denied. Libya cuts its own airline’s flights to Switzerland …
  • … June 28: Libya withdraws most of its assets from Swiss bank accounts.
  • August 20: Merz apologises in Tripoli for the arrest. The finance ministry says the two detained Swiss businessmen will be released “soon”. The countries agree on a “normalisation” of their relationship and the Libyan prime minister says the two countries will set up a joint committee to examine what he called the “tragic incident” in Geneva.

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(My comment: or you serve the money, or you serve … yes? what? Something human? That’s just the only real question for us all).

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