Swiss-Italian cross-border laws on ice

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is facing a judicial inquiry into his business dealings Keystone

Switzerland says it will not ratify a landmark judicial cooperation agreement with Italy.

This content was published on February 13, 2002 minutes

The move follows mounting concerns that new Italian laws passed last year undermine the spirit of the pact, signed in 1998.

Critics of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi say his government introduced the laws to scupper the cross-border agreements, which may have threatened the Italian leader, still facing judicial probes into his financial empire.

The new laws enable Rome to block the use of evidence collected by Swiss investigators in Italian courts.

The Swiss cabinet indicated on Wednesday it would only reconsider the agreement if Italy reversed its new laws.

Growing annoyance

The 1998 pact - signed when Italy was led by a socialist coalition - was hailed as a breakthrough that would simplify cross-border cooperation between the two countries and enable evidence collected in one country to be used in the courts of the other.

Since then, however, the Swiss have become increasingly incensed at what they see as a change in direction by Italian legislators.

Berlusconi's opponents say his ruling Forza Italia party introduced the new laws last year in order to give the prime minister and several of his associates immunity from prosecution.

Berlusconi has faced several judicial inquiries in the past, and remains under investigation by judges in Milan over his Fininvest media empire.

The judges were seeking information from Swiss authorities as part of their investigations.

No choice

A spokesman for the justice ministry, Folco Galli, told swissinfo that Italy's position meant Switzerland had no choice but to postpone ratification of the agreement.

"We think that the formal requirements [of the Italian laws] could be in contradiction with the spirit of this treaty... and that they could make the proceedings more complicated instead of simpler," the spokesman said.

In Italy, opposition politicians have seized on the Swiss decision to draw attention to Berlusconi's new laws. On Wednesday, green parliamentarian Paulo Cento said the Swiss decision was a "slap in the face for Silvio Berlusconi's government".

Leftist democrat Fabio Musi, vice-president of the Italian House of Representatives, renewed calls for a referendum against Berlusconi's legal amendments.

A spokesman for Forza Italia dismissed the decision, saying Switzerland "has a historic tendency to isolate itself".

In October 2001, the president of the Court of Appeal in New York, Guido Calabresi, condemned the Italian legislation as "an international anomaly that should not be allowed to pass unnoticed".


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