Graubünden minister stripped of his immunity

Last July, media reports revealed that Aliesch had accepted gifts from an alleged criminal and Greek millionaire

The former police minister of canton Graubünden, Peter Aliesch, has been stripped of his immunity by the regional parliament. The affair is one in a series of scandals which have made headlines in Switzerland this summer.

This content was published on September 7, 2001 minutes

The unanimous vote in the 120-member cantonal parliament on Friday opens the way for a judicial investigation and for possible criminal charges to be brought against the minister. Aliesch, 49, had asked to have his immunity taken away to enable him to defend himself.

Last July, media reports revealed that Aliesch, whose police and justice department oversees immigration, had accepted gifts from an alleged criminal and Greek millionaire, Panagiotis Papadakis, in exchange for arranging that Papadakis be given residency status in Switzerland.

Aliesch, who denied the allegations, was stripped of most of his powers as a member of the cantonal government.

On Friday, the heads of the four political parties represented in the Graubünden parliament submitted a resolution demanding that Aliesch have his remaining powers as a member of the cantonal government taken away.

The Aliesch affair is only one of a number of scandals which made headlines in Switzerland this summer. In two other cantons, high-ranking officials and ministers have been accused of corruption or negligence.

Last week, an investigation was opened against 37 employees of the bankruptcy office in Geneva on suspicion of corruption and mismanagement. The minister responsible, Gérard Ramseyer, who refused to take measures when the allegations first surfaced, is under pressure to resign.

Earlier in the summer, a former chief judge in canton Ticino, Franco Verda, was found guilty of corruption and received an 18-month suspended sentence. He had solicited payments from a suspected member of the Italian mafia, Gerardo Cuomo, in return for assisting him to obtain residence status in Switzerland.

Observers say that, although the scandals have made headlines in Switzerland, they are unlikely to affect the country's image as a nation relatively free of corruption. "There are quite a few cases - agreed," says political scientist, Andreas Ladner, "but it's not a trend."

Ladner, who is involved in research projects at the universities of Bern and Zurich, says Switzerland still deserves its "clean" image. The country currently ranks number 12 in a worldwide corruption index published annually by the international watchdog organisation, Transparency International.

In Ladner's view this is not because Swiss politicians are any more honest than those in other European countries, where scandals are reported more frequently. Rather, he says, Switzerland's political system makes it more difficult for politicians to engage in corrupt practices.

One reason is because politics is usually a part-time occupation, with almost all federal or cantonal politicians holding down other jobs while in public office, Ladner said in an interview with swissinfo.

Another is Switzerland's unique system of consensual politics, with the country's four major parties sharing power on all levels of government, Ladner said.

"The parties are all integrated into government responsibilities, and this means that they can control each other better than is the case in a [British] Westminster-style system with a strong government party and a weak opposition."

Ladner says it is no coincidence that the recent scandals have been played out at cantonal level, attracting less attention than would be the case if the politicians concerned were of national importance.

"Corruption is more likely on a cantonal level because this where responsibilities, such as the granting of residence status, are dealt with. The federal government is less concerned with such matters."

The same can be said of Switzerland's lowest tier of government - the 2,900 local municipalities which enjoy considerable autonomy and dispense roughly a third of Swiss taxpayers' money to finance local schools, health services and water supply systems.

Ladner says it is difficult to assess corruption on a local level, but thinks that cases of "petty" corruption and nepotism are, if anything, diminishing. "Citizens have become much more critical about mixing political and private business interests than was the case 30 or 40 years ago."

Local politicians complain frequently, Ladner says, because they feel they cannot pursue their business interests at the same time.

"A typical case may involve a politician who owns a small construction firm. If he obtained a contract from the local council to build a new school, say, everybody would cry 'corruption!' - even if that weren't true at all."

Ladner says the common view that political and business interests should be kept strictly separate has discouraged many citizens from taking up public office, even at a local level.

by Markus Haefliger

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