A report by Swiss public broadcaster SRF has uncovered documents showing that Lebanese businessmen linked to under-fire Geneva President Pierre Maudet are involved in a construction project near the city’s airport.
The ‘Rundschau’ television programme said on Wednesday that Capvest, owned by one of the Lebanese organisers of Maudet’s controversial 2015 expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi, has received preliminary go-ahead to develop a tract of land near Geneva’s Cointrin airport.
Citing “confidential protocols and contracts” seen by its journalists, Rundschau claimed that Capvest bought CHF18.5 million ($19 million) of farmland where it plans to build a football centre as part of a public-private project along with local authorities.
The re-zoning of the land still needs to be approved by the cantonal parliament. If it passes, Rundschau says, the company hopes to also gain approval to build an office district – along with restaurants and cultural centres.
Maudet, who voted to greenlight the construction project in the cantonal government (he is its head as well as in charge of the security department), denied that there was a conflict of interest.
In a written statement sent to Rundschau, he clarified that it was not the government itself but rather the heirs of the Tissot watch-making company that decided to sell the land to Capvest, a company controlled by Lebanese businessman Magid Khoury.
“The Geneva government played no role in the search for or choosing of an investor,” he wrote. “The canton did not sign any contract or agreement with this investor.”
SRF cited opposition politicians from Geneva who said that the links between the politician and the company meant that preferential treatment was possible, and that Maudet, a member of the centre-right Radical Party, should have abstained from the vote.
The leader of the conservative right People’s Party in Geneva, Thomas Bläsi, said the decision not to step aside for such a vote was “careless”.
Maudet is facing an investigation by the Geneva public prosecutor for possible “acceptance of a benefit”external link linked to the trip made with his family to Abu Dhabi in November 2015.
The former Federal Council candidate initially said that it was a private trip, paid for by a friend. But the head of Geneva’s cantonal government last week acknowledged “having hidden part of the truth”.
The public prosecutor says Maudet accepted flights and accommodation for himself, his family, and his chief of staff amounting to several tens of thousands of Swiss francs. It says the costs were paid for by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed bin Al-Nahyan, who had invited him to watch a Formula 1 race.
It added that there were several members of the Geneva property sector involved in the organisation of the trip, without giving further information.
The affair and speculation have caused a media storm that has rippled out from Geneva to the rest of Switzerland. Maudet has personally agreed to waive his own immunity to allow the investigation to go ahead.