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Reports heighten pressure on embattled Geneva minister

Geneva parliamentarians are calling for Gérard Ramseyer's head

(Keystone Archive)

Pressure is mounting on Geneva's cantonal minister for police and justice to resign after two separate reports supported allegations of widespread irregularities in the canton's Bankruptcy Office.

The series of irregularities - including embezzlement, trading of favours, workplace bullying and the employment of illegal workers -- have been reported at the cantonal Bankruptcy Office, threatening the job of the minister in charge, Gérard Ramseyer.

In the most serious episode so far, a former employee of the Office, arrested in July and charged with aggravated abuse of trust and forging documents, has admitted misappropriating SFr2 million over 10 years.

Now two reports commissioned by the cantonal parliament's management inspection committee - one into alleged corruption, the other into mobbing - have demonstrated that mismanagement and illegal practices were rife in the Bankruptcy Office.

Ramseyer told swissinfo he cannot comment on either of the new reports until he has had the chance to study them.

"Report is merciless"

The first report, conducted by the lawyers Denis Mathey and Claudio Mascotto, found no concrete evidence of corruption, in the legal sense of the term, but it did uncover a series of very serious irregularities.

"The report ... lays bare the irregularities and the behaviour of certain state servants: illegal practices, taking advantage, preferential treatment, gifts, abuse of power, false accounting. The report is merciless," says an editorial in the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

"It confirms the fraud, the cronyism and the impunity that have for too long been like a gangrene in this sector," it adds.

Among the accusations are that employees of the office helped themselves to property being taken from vacated premises; that they used bankruptcy auctions to sell personal belongings; that they created fictitious bank accounts; and that they accepted holidays in Spain from a second-hand furniture dealer in return for access to seized property.

Ramseyer himself is implicated in the report on three occasions. It says that: he twisted the law to obtain expensive furniture for his office; that he agreed to the employment of temporary staff; and that he agreed to the office's branches remaining open at weekends, and that the cost would be covered by "sponsoring from certain banks".

The report also confirms that large sums of money - tens of millions of francs - were deposited illegally in the state's coffers as a result of bankruptcies. The money should have been returned creditors.

The second report, carried out by Blanc Consultants, reveals serious cases of workplace bullying within the department, with the office in Carouge being especially badly affected. It says "mobbing was made easier by the attitude of the bosses and by the existence of clans."

The two reports are still officially confidential, but their contents have been widely reported in the French-language Swiss press.

Inadequate controls

Questions were raised about irregularities at the Bankruptcy Office as early as 1996. Those concerns were reiterated in subsequent reports, but Ramseyer consistently refused to follow them up.

The affair has highlighted an inadequate system of controls in a department handling large sums of money, as well as revealing the lengths to which Ramseyer's department went to prevent investigators uncovering the extent of the problem.

Ramseyer, who has been minister for police and justice for the past eight years, has said he will not resign. But his party, the centre-right Radicals, has suggested he will not be a candidate in this autumn's cantonal elections if the accusations against him are substantiated.

The minister's fate could be sealed in the coming days, when Geneva's finance inspectors issue what is expected to be a damning report on the internal workings of the Bankruptcy Office.

The cantonal government has set up a special commission to come up with mechanisms to ensure this kind of situation cannot happen in future.

"The authorities must drag their feet no longer. The rottenness at the heart of the Bankruptcy Office is preventing them from functioning properly," The Tribune de Genève editorial says.

by Roy Probert


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