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More money and staff needed to tackle organised crime

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(Keystone)

The Swiss Justice minister, Ruth Metzler, says it will take at least two years to put into place the structures needed to step up the fight against organized crime, money-laundering and corruption.

A framework plan to improve the efficiency of Swiss judicial investigations was approved by parliament last year, but Metzler told the assembly on Wednesday a major shake-up was necessary.

She said she planned to improve the fight against organised crime by centralising investigations and appointing additional law officers. Metzler said that by 2004 she expected 1,000 people to be working in this field in the federal administration, and that this would mean a "massive increase" in government spending.

The old adage that crime knows no frontiers is all the more true in Switzerland which is not only surrounded by four major states, but also has to contend with the complexities of a federal system where the cantons jealously guard their rights in police and investigative matters.

However, the advent of the Russian mafia and increasingly complicated financial cases led parliament to recognise the necessity to centralise certain police functions in Berne.

There has always been a nucleus of a federal police, largely concerned with espionage and terrorism, but on several occasions Swiss voters have blocked efforts to establish a national police.

The government's plan shifts investigative powers from the cantons to the federal authorities in serious cases of organized crime, money-laundering, corruption, and major fraud. Complex intercantonal and international cases would in future also be investigated by the federal authorities rather than the cantons.

Once remaining political hurdles are overcome, the Federal Prosecutor and the Federal Police Office would be able to recruit dozens of new specialists, such as lawyers, auditors, and finance experts.

The Prosecutor's office currently has a staff of 21, which it is proposing boosting to 90 by 2004, while the Federal Police wants to increase the number of detectives it employs from 15 now to between 50 and 90.

The authorities are shying away from any semblance of a national police force, so even if investigations are co-ordinated nationally, arrests and other more mundane work would still most likely be the province of the cantonal forces.

A major question mark is the cost of the reform. The government does not want to publish any estimate until parliament has been informed.

By Peter Haller


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