Defence lawyer arrested in Ticino corruption case

A lawyer who worked for a suspected Italian cigarette smuggler has been arrested as part of a widening corruption probe in the Italian speaking canton of Ticino. The case has caused major diplomatic ructions between Switzerland and Italy.

This content was published on August 25, 2000 minutes

Ticino's state prosecutor, Luca Marcellini, said the lawyer had been employed by a suspected Italian cigarette smuggler, Gerardo Cuomo, who is facing charges in Italy of cigarette smuggling and money laundering.

Cuomo was arrested on an Italian warrant in Switzerland in May on cigarette smuggling charges.

The lawyer, who was not named, is the latest in a string of arrests carried out by the Ticino justice authorities investigating the case against Cuomo. The lawyer was reportedly employed by Cuomo in 1997 to fight a ruling ordering his client to leave Switzerland.

The lawyer's arrest came at the same time as that of another attorney working for the cantonal education department. Marcellini said the second suspect - who was also not named - had been detained on charges of fraud and blackmail.

Marcellini did not say how the two were involved in the Cuomo case.

Their arrests follow that of the former Ticinese criminal court judge, Franco Verda, who was taken into custody on August 4. He is accused of breaching confidentiality rules, partiality in court and accepting bribes.

Verda allegedly forewarned Cuomo about the outcome of a trial surrounding confiscated money belonging to a Mafia boss. The telephone calls were tapped by Italian police.

He was granted a provisional release on Thursday, while the justice authorities prepare their case. He has denied any wrongdoing, but admitted to a local newspaper that he had been "negligent" in his relationship with Cuomo.

The case has provoked an increasingly bitter "war of words" between Switzerland and Italy. On Friday, Switzerland made a formal protest to the Italians over comments made by the Italian finance minister, Ottaviano del Turco.

The complaint by the Swiss ambassador in Rome, Hans-Rudolf Hodel, to the Italian foreign ministry was in response to criticism by del Turco of the Swiss authorities' handling of the Cuomo case.

In an interview on Ticino television, Del Turco accused Switzerland of underestimating the size of what he called one of the most dangerous criminal organisations in Europe. He also called for a revision of a judicial aid agreement, which the two countries signed two years ago.

Del Turco added it had taken the arrest of Franco Verda to end years of uncooperative behaviour by Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

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