Three British men have been held in custody in Zurich for nearly two months after taking part in a Cannonball style car race through Switzerland. The trio are suspected of violating road traffic laws and have had their sports cars impounded.
They were arrested on June 4 whilst taking part in the Cannon Runexternal link race from Maidstone in England to Monaco. There is no indication from the Zurich authorities of when they might be released or brought to trial.
Informal motor rallies, mainly through the United States and Europe, were inspired by a string of movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Gumball Rally and Cannonball Run, starring such luminaries as Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore.
The Cannon Run Facebook siteexternal link posted a message saying the trio were accused of minor traffic offences, including “a very small speeding issue which was only a little over”.
“Even though TCR took every opportunity to make our clients aware of the harsh Swiss laws and consequences unfortunately these 3 family men have been caught up in a very harsh situation which in the UK would of been a slap on the wrist,” the post added.
But the Swiss authorities take a dim view of people racing through the country in souped up sports cars in unauthorised rallies.
Pre-trial detention rules
A Swiss legal expert on traffic offences told 20 Minuten newspaper that the accused could be facing jail terms of between one and four years if found guilty of taking part in an illegal road race on public streets.
The Zurich prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the case, even to confirm if the accused have been charged or not. A spokeswoman would only say they would be detained for as long as it took to complete the judicial process.
Swiss law allows for suspects to be held in pre-trial detention under three conditions: to prevent suspects from tampering with evidence or witnesses, repeating offences or carrying out the original intended crime. The Zurich prosecutor’s office would not say which condition was used to detain the men.
Such a detention has to be approved by a magistrate and the incarceration must be reviewed every three months.
Relatives of the accused have contacted the British embassy in Bern which issued the following statement: "We have been assisting three British people since their detention in Switzerland since 4 June. We are providing support to their families and remain in contact with the Swiss authorities."
The detention of the three men has drawn critical responses on the Cannon Run facebook site: “Those Swiss are a nightmare! Best roads and scenery but worst police force!” said one comment.
“So wrong on so many levels as these men are also family men that have children and wives at home waiting for answers that they aren't getting from the Swiss. It's disgusting how they have been treated,” read another.
The maximum speed limit in Switzerland is 120 kmph and motorists caught speeding usually face finesexternal link of up to CHF260 (£208 or $272) if there are no aggravating factors such as driving at very high speeds in built up areas or under the influence of alcohol.
Switzerland beefed up punishments for dangerous driving when it introduced a road safety programme known as Via Sicura in 2013. Road deaths have declined 34% since 2010, according to official statistics, but the government recently said it would consider toning down some parts of the regulations that are seen by some as draconian.
The could include dropping minimum fixed prison sentences for traffic crimes and lowering to six months the minimum period for suspending a driving licence.
Judges should also have more discretion in the case of evaluating traffic offence cases, the government said last month.