Parliamentary committee probes defence ministry scandal

The Swiss parliament’s ways and means committee will tring to find out on Wednesday whether a senior defence ministry accountant – who is now under arrest on suspicion of fraud -- also had access to secret documents in the ministry’s intelligence unit.

This content was published on August 25, 1999 - 12:21

The Swiss parliament’s ways and means committee will tring to find out on Wednesday whether a senior defence ministry accountant – who is now under arrest on suspicion of fraud -- also had access to secret documents in the ministry’s intelligence unit.

The probe takes place against the background of mutual finger pointing by the suspended head of the defence ministry’s intelligence unit Peter Regli and Dino Bellasi, the man at the centre of the scandal.

Bellasi, 39, was arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement of SFr8.65 million ($5.8 million). But the fraud scandal has evolved into a possible secret service scandal after the discovery of a weapons cache last week and allegations of a secret army over the weekend.

Bellasi’s lawyer said Monday that Regli had ordered Bellasi to set up a covert army and finance it by secretly channelling money away from the official defence ministry accounts.

Regli has firmly rejected those allegations, describing them as a “grotesque web of lies.”

Media reports over the weekend said that Bellasi may have had access to secret documents with names of agents but Regli has denied that he allowed Bellasi unrestricted access to such documents.

Defence Minister Adolf Ogi and the military’s top brass say they are standing by Regli and that he is innocent until proven guilty.

Ogi told the Zürich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper that he never ordered the formation of a secret army. Despite the current crisis, he said there was no question of disbanding the intelligence unit.

Ogi himself has been strongly criticised by several political figures for not acting decisively in getting to the bottom of the affair.

There have also been calls for a special parliamentary committee to be set up to investigate the scandal. But most government parties have come out against the proposal, saying the fraud investigation should be allowed to go ahead first.

The scandal has cast yet another shadow over Switzerland’s intelligence unit and revived memories of a scandal in the department nine years ago.

At that time, a special parliamentary committee discovered that Swiss agents had set up a secret army, codenamed P26, and a secret intelligence unit, known as P27. The discovery caused a political uproar and both units were disbanded.

From staff and wire reports.

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