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Italian justice won’t investigate Swiss judge

Italy's anti-mafia prosecutors, Giuseppe Scelsi (left) and Giovanni Colangelo, are probing a cigarette smuggling ring Keystone

Italy's anti-mafia authorities say they will not be investigating the role of a Swiss judge in an international cigarette-smuggling ring.

However, the prosecutor leading the inquiry, Giuseppe Scelsi, said six Swiss nationals were among 87 people being investigated.

Speaking in the Italian port of Bari on Wednesday, Scelsi said the former top judge in canton Ticino, Franco Verda, would not be targeted, despite evidence of close ties with the suspected ring-leader, Gerardo Cuomo. Verda was arrested in Switzerland last Friday on corruption charges, for allegedly colluding with Cuomo.

The Italian investigator added that the six Swiss being investigated were all residents of canton Ticino and were suspected of helping the smuggling ring carry out financial transactions and launder money.

Scelsi is leading the investigation into an international cigarette smuggling operation from Montenegro to the Italian region of Apulia, from where cigarettes were dispersed throughout the country and the rest of Europe. The profits came from avoiding the high duties placed on tobacco in many European companies.

Cuomo is suspected of organising the cigarette mafia from Switzerland, where tax avoidance in a foreign country is not a criminal offence. For this reason, the Swiss authorities were not able to offer legal assistance to Italy on the smuggling accusations.

However, Cuomo was arrested in Zurich in May on suspicion of money laundering and belonging to a criminal organisation, and is awaiting extradition to Italy.

Scelsi’s decision not to pursue Verda comes a day after the Italian finance minister, Ottaviano Del Turco, blamed Switzerland’s banking system for the corruption case. Del Turco particularly criticised the Swiss authorities for failing to offer legal assistance in the case.

The Swiss authorities rejected the accusation, and noted that Switzerland cannot offer legal assistance in a cigarette smuggling case.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR