A Turkish court has handed down a one-year suspended sentence to a Swiss police chief who was detained while attempting to leave the country last July. Customs officers discovered an ancient artefact in Christian Varone’s holiday luggage.
The sentence, which concludes the so-called Varone stone affair, will only be activated if Varone commits a similar offence in the next five years. According to Turkish law, there will be no criminal record of the offence.
“It’s what we expected,” Varone’s Turkish lawyer said, adding that they were satisfied with the judgement. The court case was postponed three times.
Varone was arrested in July 2012 at Antalya airport in southwestern Turkey after a stone was found in his luggage. He was held for five days before being allowed to return to Switzerland.
The case received a lot of national media attention because Varone had already become a public figure in the aftermath of the tragic bus crash near Sierre in Valais in which 22 schoolchildren died. As police chief for the canton of Valais, he was praised for his handling of the case.
The Turkish authorities charged Varone with the smuggling of antique cultural goods. Varone always denied the charge, explaining that he picked up the stone as a simple souvenir. Three contradictory expert evaluations of the stone were carried out, the third of which classified the stone as an antique pillar fragment and “cultural object worthy of protection”.
In the midst of the stone scandal, Varone put himself forward as a candidate in cantonal government elections, without success. He is still on leave from his police position.