Israeli secret agent gets suspended sentence

The Mossad agent's defence counsel, Ralph Zloczower, fielding reporters' questions after the sentencing Keystone

The Federal Court has handed down a 12-month suspended sentence to an Israeli secret agent, who was caught red-handed while attempting to bug the telephone of a Swiss resident.

This content was published on July 7, 2000 - 13:58

The decision means the Mossad agent can return to Israel immediately.

The court also barred the agent from Switzerland for five years, after finding him guilty of political espionage, acting illegally for a foreign country, and entering the country under a false name.

The presiding judge, Hans Wiprächtiger, described the crimes as "considerable". He said the agent had "violated the sovereignty of Switzerland in an unrestrained and intolerable manner".

The agent, who was tried under the pseudonym, Isaac Bental, had confessed to the charges. He was arrested near Berne in 1998, when he and four others were caught trying to wiretap the telephone of a Swiss-Lebanese man, whom Israel suspected of supporting terrorist acts by the Iranian-backed guerrilla group, Hezbollah.

The sentence was far more lenient than that demanded by the Swiss prosecutor, Felix Bänziger, who had called for a 15-month jail term.

In mitigation, Bental's lawyers had argued that he was acting solely to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel.

But the prosecution rejected the defence arguments, saying there was no proof that the Swiss-Lebanese was engaged in terrorism.

The Swiss-Lebanese, Abdallah el-Zein, ran an Ahl El-Beit centre, which promotes adherence to Shi'ite Islam. Swiss police said they had found no proof that the centre was connected to Hezbollah.

The trial is the first time a Mossad agent has ever been subjected to such scrutiny by an overseas court. Even so, the court agreed to allow the man to be tried under the pseudonym on the grounds that revealing his real name could endanger his life.

The other four agents were released soon after their arrest, but Bental was jailed for two months and released on bail on condition that Israel sent him back to face trial.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, welcomed the verdict, and said he was pleased the agent had been given permission to return home.

Israel's ambassador to Berne, Yitzchak Mayer, said his country had never intended to damage Switzerland, and was only trying to combat international terrorism.

swissinfo with agencies

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