The Swiss Justice Ministry has sharply criticised new Italian legislation which it says will seriously undermine cross-border judicial cooperation. The move has also been condemned by one of Switzerland's leading prosecutors, Bernard Bertossa, as a political decision designed "to protect figures close to the Italian government".
Under the law, which was ratified by the Italian parliament, Rome can now dismiss the findings of investigations carried out by other countries, if their procedures do not correspond with those of Italy.
Opposition parliamentarians say the new legislation will effectively grant the country's prime minister and media baron, Silvio Berlusconi, and several of his allies immunity from prosecution in a number of corruption investigations.
Berlusconi has been the subject of several judicial inquiries and he is still under investigation by judges in Milan over matters relating to his Fininvest media empire. They are seeking information from Swiss authorities as part of their investigations.
Berlusconi has previously been found guilty three times on corruption-related charges only to have the convictions quashed at a later date.
The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, who is attending a conference of European justice ministers in Moscow, has already made it clear to her Italian counterpart, Roberto Castelli, that the new legislation has dealt a serious blow to the cross-border judicial agreement signed between the two countries in 1998.
Officials say the new legal requirements do not appear to allow for extensive cooperation as was detailed in the 1998 agreement, which Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, previously refused to ratify.
"In the light of current international efforts to fight terrorism, it is incomprehensible that Italy, in future, should make cross-border judicial cooperation more difficult when, on the contrary, they should be making everything easier," said a spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry.
According to Bernard Bertossa, the new legislation has nothing to do with law and was a blatant move to protect the careers of senior Italian politicians. He said it was a political move usually only seen in communist or former communist countries.
"It is only in these countries that you have heads of government who control the television and the media, and who use all the power at their disposal to protect those closest to them," he said.
There was also strong condemnation from the United States where the president of the Court of Appeal in New York, Guido Calabresi, described the legislation as "an international anomaly that should not be allowed to pass unnoticed".
He said the US judiciary, the government and the public were all asking themselves what was the real motive behind the decision.
The respected Italian daily "La Repubblica" also turned its guns on the Italian premier in a front page editorial that accused Berlusconi of going too far and ridiculing Italy in the eyes of the world.
A Swiss delegation is expected to meet representatives of the Italian justice ministry for talks on the issue before the end of this year.
swissinfo with agencies
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