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Beleaguered chief prosecutor resigns


Switzerland's chief prosecutor Valentin Roschacher, who has come in for heavy criticism in recent weeks, has announced he is stepping down.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office told swissinfo that Roschacher was resigning as a result of a series of "conflicts" over the past two years and was not leaving because of ongoing probes into his department.

Roschacher is relinquishing his operational duties with immediate effect and will formally step down at the end of the year.

Roschacher, who took over as federal prosecutor in March 2000, has been at loggerheads with Justice Minister Christoph Blocher in recent weeks.

Blocher and the president of the Federal Criminal Court's appeals chamber, Emanuel Hochstrasser, announced an extraordinary investigation of Roschacher's department last month. The ministry and the criminal court are the watchdogs of the prosecutor's office.

But Hansjürg Mark Wiedmer, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said Roschacher's resignation was not a result of the investigations into both financial and leadership aspects within his department.

"The reason for him stepping down is not because of the incidents of the past few weeks but the sum of the conflicts around this person over the past two years," Wiedmer told swissinfo.

Wiedmer added that Roschacher's resignation would not affect the investigations, which would continue as planned.

Deputy federal prosecutor Michel-André Fels will take over Roschacher's duties until a replacement can be found. According to a statement issued by the prosecutor's office, Roschacher will limit himself to "strategic business" until the end of the year.

Mounting criticism

Pressure on the prosecutor's office, and Roschacher himself, has been mounting since 2004 when two law professors condemned an anti-terror agreement Roschacher's department had concluded with the United States.

In that same year the prosecutor's office was accused of inefficiency. Although Roschacher rejected the criticism, an inspection process was instituted.

In the following year, the department was once again in the firing line after it pulled the plug on a heavily criticised investigation into the financing of global terror.

Trouble flared again following the publication of an article at the end of May 2006 in the weekly Weltwoche magazine. The story claimed that a Colombian informant and drug baron had duped Roschacher in a money laundering case concerning a private banker, Oskar Holenweger.

The federal prosecutor rejected the allegation, saying his involvement was limited to contacts with the Colombian's lawyer.

Justice ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari confirmed at the time that the article was "one element" in the decision to call for the investigation but said it was not the deciding factor.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont with agencies

In brief

In Switzerland, the cantonal judicial authorities are competent to deal with most criminal proceedings.

However, some categories of crime come under the jurisdiction of the federal prosecutor's office.

These include causing explosions, counterfeiting, espionage, organised international crime and financial crime, money laundering, bribery, and offences committed by federal employees in the exercise of their public duties.

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Key facts

Valentin Roschacher was born in 1960 and studied law at Zurich University.
He was district prosecutor in Zurich from 1992 to 1995.
Roschacher joined the federal police office in 1995.
He has been federal prosecutor since March 1, 2000.

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