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Swiss consider inquiry into UN bugging affair

The walls have ears at UN headquarters in Geneva Keystone

Diplomatic immunity at the United Nations in Geneva should be lifted, according to Swiss officials planning an inquiry into a bugging incident.

This content was published on December 17, 2004 - 17:19

The UN confirmed on Friday that a secret listening device had been discovered at its European headquarters.

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office said it was considering whether to launch a full investigation into the affair.

But spokesman Peter Lehmann said it could not do so if it did not have full access to the UN buildings in Geneva and to the staff who work there.

UN spokeswoman Marie Heuzé confirmed that the Swiss judicial authorities had been in contact, but said the matter was “complex” and that there would be no immediate response to the request.

The UN said it did not know who had installed the sophisticated eavesdropping equipment, but it is believed to be of eastern European origin.

Renovation

Heuzé said the bugging device was found in the autumn during renovation work on a meeting room.

“I can confirm that in the course of the renovation of the Salon Français workmen found what is considered to be a sophisticated listening device,” she said in a statement.

The Salon Français hosts a weekly teleconference meeting between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the head of the Geneva office, Sergei Ordzhonikidze.

Heads of states, including the French president, Jacques Chirac, as well as ministers and heads of delegations have also used the room.

“Swiss cheese”

An anonymous source within the UN's security service likened the Geneva headquarters to "Swiss cheese", saying that it was probably full of eavesdropping devices.

"If we had the technical means and personnel to conduct a painstaking search, I am certain we would find microphone after microphone," the source told the Reuters news agency.

Television Suisse Romande (TSR), the Swiss broadcaster which broke the story, said the listening device was found in wood panels inside the room.

Jacques Baud, a Bern-based security expert, said it was the first time since the Cold War that there had been material proof of a system being planted at the UN.

Tracing the source

After seeing photos of the device, Patrick Daniel Eugster, head of Geneva-based Surveillance Consulting Group, told TSR that the bug was likely to be of Russian or eastern European origin.

He added that its size indicated that it was between three and four years old.

“It’s a very sophisticated piece of listening equipment where the sound is picked up and immediately retransmitted,” Eugster told TSR.

In September 2003 the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France held talks on Iraq at the UN in Geneva.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor is calling for the UN's diplomatic immunity to be lifted.

The call came as the Swiss authorities announced plans to launch an investigation into the discovery of a secret listening device at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.

The UN said the bugging device was found in the autumn during renovation work on a meeting room.

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