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Blocher faces probe over banking secrecy breach

Blocher said he could demand the cancellation of the whole judicial inquiry into alleged violations of banking secrecy laws Keystone

Parliament has given the green light for the strongman of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, Christoph Blocher, to be investigated over alleged violations of banking secrecy laws in connection with the former head of the Swiss National Bank.

Ending a procedural tug-of-war between two parliamentary panels, the legal committee of the Senate on Monday insisted that Blocher’s parliamentary immunity be lifted altogether, according to committee speaker Anne Seydoux.

Blocher is member of the House of Representative and former justice minister. He and his party are ardent defenders of Swiss banking secrecy. They have repeatedly criticised the government for undermining the cherished regulations in international negotiations.

The decision paves the way for the justice authorities to launch a comprehensive investigation to establish to what extent Blocher was involved in passing on confidential bank documents of the former head of the National Bank, Philipp Hildebrand, amid a controversy over private foreign currency transactions.

The affair led to Hildebrand handing in his resignation in January.

The respective panel of the House of Representatives wanted to allow only a partial lifting of Blocher’s immunity from prosecution and grant him protection for the period after he was sworn in as member of the House of Representative on December 5.

Blocher allegedly saw screenshots of stolen bank documents and tried to instigate others to forward copies to a news magazine considered close to him.

To be continued

The Zurich prosecutor’s office said it would resume its probe in the next few days. However, it is not yet clear whether police can use electronic data confiscated at Blocher’s office and home in March.

At least three other people are being investigated by the Zurich prosecutor’s office.

Dismissing parliament’s move as a political campaign against him, Blocher said he would continue to challenge the decision.

Following a court order to suspend a controversial judge for the inquiry, Blocher said he could demand the cancellation of the whole judicial inquiry. He added he might also lodge an appeal with the Federal Court.

However, the decision by the Senate committee is final, according to a senior member of the panel.

It is a rare occurrence that parliament votes to deprive one of its members of his or her immunity from prosecution. In 1991, parliament denied protection to Jean Ziegler, a controversial leftwing politician and sociology professor, over a accusations against a Geneva-based financier.

In Switzerland members of parliament and the government enjoy full immunity for views expressed in an official context and capacity. Within those limits, no civil, criminal or disciplinary sanction may be invoked against them.

Parliamentarians and ministers also benefit from relative immunity for statements and actions outside their official activities. As of last December, however, this immunity covers only statements and actions which directly relate to their function.

In the past 30 years, parliament has adjudicated 38 requests

to deprive parliamentarians and ministers of their political immunity. Only once, in the case of a minister who had resigned, Elisabeth Kopp, was immunity in fact lifted. 

In the cases of three elected members, parliament found that the acts at issue had no relation to their parliamentary activity and left the way open to criminal charges.

Over the past 20 years, Blocher has guided the People’s Party through five successful elections. The rightwing party has thus become the largest political grouping at national level, whereas in 1995 it ranked only fourth.
Blocher was a member of the House of Representatives from 1979 to 2003, the year in which he was elected to the Swiss government. In 2007, a majority in Parliament declined to reappoint him as a minister.
In 2011 Blocher, who is vice-president of the People’s Party, was again elected to the House of Representatives.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR