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Army chief insists on right to privacy

The head of the armed forces made his public appearance in civilian clothes Keystone

The head of the armed forces Roland Nef is suing a tabloid newspaper over reports of personal details surrounding his appointment last year.

This content was published on July 17, 2008 - 18:10

A series of allegations, leaked on Sunday, put increasing pressure on Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, who is facing calls to resign.

"Enough is enough. I'm not only head of the armed forces but I remain a human being and a citizen who has a right to privacy," said Nef in news conference at the defence ministry on Thursday.

"The defamation campaign against me is irresponsible and of no real public interest."

Nef confirmed that a former girlfriend had accused him of coercion – a legal term that includes stalking or harassment by email – and that a criminal inquiry against him had been underway for about 12 months.

The matter was settled out of court between the two parties and the public prosecutor in October 2007 and included the payment of an undisclosed sum of money to the victim.

Nef admitted that he had "not always acted judiciously and with a cool head at the end of an intense love affair".

No hush money

But he categorically rejected media reports that he had paid mafia-style hush money to silence his former partner.

Nef, who took over as head of the armed forces at the beginning of the year, dismissed allegations that he might no longer be credible in his position. He said he had the full support of the military leadership and of the defence minister.

Wearing a civilian suit to underline that he was addressing the media as a private citizen, Nef refused to reveal further details of the agreement and the nature of his dispute with his former girlfriend.

"I'm sure my job as head of the armed forces will not be compromised by further speculation about my personality," he said.

But Nef announced he had filed a legal complaint with the courts against the tabloid Blick over infringements against his rights as an individual and was considering further steps.

Doubts

The story, which in part has the characteristics of a summer media frenzy, has not only raised questions about Nef's personal integrity but also about his nomination as army chief.

Defence Minister Samuel Schmid failed to inform the other government ministers of a criminal investigation into Nef when he presented his candidate.

Schmid, who promised to explain himself to his cabinet colleagues next month, said Nef had assured him that the criminal inquiry would be closed.

Several parliamentarians expressed doubts over Schmid's procedure and there are calls both by the rightwing and the centre-left parties for him to step down.

The media also criticised the information policy of the defence ministry.

Nef's chances of winning the case against the tabloid paper are good, according to Peter Studer, legal expert and former head of the Swiss Press Council.

He told the ATS news agency that the onus is on the media to explain the public interest in a private matter. The newspaper also has to prove that its sources of information were credible.

But Studer adds that the real political issue is whether Schmid was justified in withholding information of the inquiry into Nef when he presented his candidate for the post of armed forces chief to the cabinet.

Communications expert Iwan Rickenbacher told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that Schmid underestimated the risks of Nef's nomination.

The surprise nomination of the 48-year-old Nef as head of the armed forces was seen as a snub for several other long-serving top army staff.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

The cabinet appointed Nef head of Switzerland's armed forces in June 2007.

He succeeded Christophe Keckeis who retired at the end of last December.

In his post the 48-year-old Nef is responsible for the development and leadership of the land and air forces.

The 220,000-strong armed forces, including reserves, function on a militia principle, but not as a fully professional army. It maintains is a modern and well-maintained weapons systems and equipment.

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