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Minister accused of involvement in plot

Keystone

A parliamentary committee has sharply criticised Justice Minister Christoph Blocher over the resignation of former chief prosecutor Valentin Roschacher.

This content was published on September 5, 2007 - 22:50

The cabinet on Wednesday decided to appoint an independent expert to investigate the affair. Blocher rejected “intolerable” press allegations that he was involved in a plot to oust Roschacher.

Roschacher formally stepped down as chief prosecutor on July 5, 2006 after coming in for heavy criticism over his handling of various issues.

Roschacher, who took over as federal prosecutor in March 2000, clashed with Blocher prior to his departure.

A report into the Swiss prosecution system released on Wednesday by a parliamentary control committee criticised Blocher over his handling of Roschacher’s departure.

During the finalisation of working documents with the chief prosecutor in July 2006, the justice minister bypassed the cabinet, the only competent authority, and overstepped his mandate, the report stated.

It added that the chief prosecutor did not resign willingly, but under pressure from the justice minister via incriminations, severe reprimands and the threat of dismissal.

"Intolerable" accusations

In parallel, the government announced on Wednesday that it would appoint a legal expert to investigate exactly why Roschacher resigned.

"It’s in the interests of everyone, for reasons of collegiality, and for Blocher,” explained Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin. “It’s not an act of defiance against Christoph Blocher, quite the contrary.

“The affair is complicated and this procedure, which is a first, will allow us to have an opinion based on law which is as objective as possible,” he explained, adding that the expert could be a former federal judge.

For the interior minister, it is in the government’s interest "to speak with one voice so that cabinet members avoid adding their own pinch of salt".

On Wednesday afternoon, the justice minister held a news conference to present his side of the story. Blocher has been accused by several Swiss newspapers of being involved in a plot to oust the former chief prosecutor to protect a banker friend.

Blocher denied his involvement in a conspiracy, calling the press accusations “intolerable” and “dishonourable”.

He rejected any knowledge of a plan to kick out Roschacher or of being involved in any way.

The minister added that the investigation being carried out by the parliamentary control committee had not been objective, which was backed up by the recent press leaks.

The parliamentary control committee said on Wednesday it planned to continue its investigation into the alleged plot to make Roschacher resign. It has asked a sub-committee to gather documents from the German authorities.

swissinfo with agencies

Valentin Roschacher

Valentin Roschacher formally stepped down as prosecutor general on July 5, 2006 after coming in for heavy criticism over his handling of various issues.

Roschacher, who took over as federal prosecutor in March 2000, clashed with Blocher prior to his departure.

Pressure on the prosecutor's office, and Roschacher himself, had been mounting since 2004 when two law professors condemned an anti-terror agreement Roschacher's department had concluded with the United States.

In that same year the prosecutor's office was accused of inefficiency. Although Roschacher rejected the criticism, an inspection process was instituted.

In the following year, the department was once again in the firing line after it pulled the plug on a heavily criticised investigation into the financing of global terror.

Trouble flared again following the publication of an article at the end of May 2006 in the weekly Weltwoche magazine. The story claimed that a Colombian informant and drug baron had duped Roschacher in a money-laundering case concerning a private banker, Oskar Holenweger.

The federal prosecutor rejected the allegation, saying his involvement was limited to contacts with the Colombian's lawyer. The justice ministry decided to launch an “extraordinary investigation” into the prosecutor’s office following this revelation.

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