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Talks between Couchepin and Berlusconi at Palace Chigi on Wednesday Keystone

A key cross-border legal cooperation agreement between Italy and Switzerland remains in limbo - despite a personal appeal by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

This content was published on March 21, 2002 - 11:28

The Italian leader met the Swiss economics minister Pascal Couchepin on Wednesday evening for talks that were overshadowed by a political assassination.

Couchepin said after the meeting that Berlusconi had implored Switzerland to ratify the legal agreement - which would allow countries to share cross-border evidence in trials - as quickly as possible.

But Couchepin said a number of "technical problems" had to be fixed before Switzerland could sign.

The meeting was cut short by news of the murder of Marco Biagi, a high-ranking adviser for the Italian employment department.

The slaying has re-inflamed Italian fears about left-wing inspired violence against politicians.

Row over banking secrecy

Couchepin's one hour meeting with Berlusconi was also complicated by a row with Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti over Swiss banking secrecy and an Italian tax amnesty.

Tremonti and Couchepin have traded barbs over the issues in recent days - with Switzerland expressing its anger at Italy's amnesty, which has reportedly resulted in a capital flight worth billions from Swiss banks.

Tremonti has responded by criticising Switzerland's banking secrecy laws.

But after Wednesday's meeting in the prime minister's palace, Couchepin said Berlusconi, in contrast to Tremonti, did not attack Swiss banking practices.

Rather, Berlusconi emphasised the Swiss financial system's role in the global economy, Couchepin said.

But the most difficult item on the agenda between the two men - that of Switzerland's refusal to sign the legal pact - remains unresolved.

No-go on pact

The Swiss cabinet has expressed its concern that the Berlusconi government has sought to undermine the spirit of a 1998 cooperation treaty by watering down the legal agreement, which would enable prosecutors to share evidence, particularly in corruption and money-laundering cases.

Switzerland also believes it cannot sign until the legal tangle surrounding corruption allegations leveled against Berlusconi and his media empire are resolved.

Couchepin said Switzerland wanted to be sure the deal would not result in a financial burden, and said that the legal agreement be signed "from A to B", and not piecemeal.

Couchepin also told the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that Italy's democracy was mature enough to handle the latest bout of political violence.

swissinfo with agencies

No progress on beef

The Swiss minister also held talks with the Italian health minister Girolamo Sirchia, but failed to persuade him to lift a ban on the import of Swiss beef, imposed in the wake of the crisis over BSE, or mad cow disease.

swissinfo with agencies

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