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Ex-intelligence officer jailed for fraud

Dino Bellasi outside the court in Bern

(Keystone Archive)

A former member of the Swiss secret service accused of embezzling millions of francs from the defence ministry has been sentenced to six years in prison.

Dino Bellasi was found guilty of siphoning off SFr8.8 million ($6.5 million) in false claims between 1994 and 1999.

The charges against Bellasi included fraud, embezzlement, document falsification and money laundering, committed while he was balancing the books for the ministry.

Most of the money was swindled through claims for fictitious army exercises. The fraud came to light after Bellasi continued to submit claims after he left his job in November 1998.

Bellasi, who was arrested in 1999, has already spent three and a half years behind bars.

Secret armoury

During the course of the three-week trial in Bern, the former intelligence officer and his lawyer refused to comment on earlier claims - later retracted - that he had been ordered by his superiors to hoard arms and divert funds to set up a secret army.

After his activities came to public attention, police discovered a secret arms cache in Bern, containing hundreds of weapons amassed by Bellasi.

Peter Regli, the head of Switzerland's intelligence service, was among several officials supsended because of Bellasi's allegations. Regli was cleared of any responsibility in the swindle but took early retirement.

Fraud

Just over SFr6 million of the missing money has been traced - Bellasi is thought to have spent the bulk of it on funding a luxurious lifestyle, buying weapons and setting up false companies.

Bellasi refused to answer questions about the whereabouts of the rest of the money - over SFr2 million.

He had previously claimed that the missing cash entered the pockets of his superiors - an allegation which has been strenuously denied.

Reverberations from the scandal led to a shake-up of the secret service in Switzerland.

One of the outcomes saw the intelligence organisation being demilitarised and transformed into a civil body.

The Swiss army is also currently looking into preventing abuse of its system of cash payments to troops.

swissinfo with agencies

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