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Swiss prosecutor demands prison term for Israeli agent

The wiretapping equipment used by the Israeli agent was shown to the court Keystone

A Swiss prosecutor has demanded a 15-month jail sentence for an agent of Israel's Mossad secret service, who was caught red-handed during an attempt to bug the telephone of a Swiss resident. The agent's lawyers have called for his acquittal.

This content was published on July 6, 2000 - 18:35

The deputy federal prosecutor, Felix Bänziger, called the action a serious violation of Swiss sovereignty, and asked the Federal Court in Lausanne to fine the agent SFr5,000 and ban him from Switzerland for 10 years.

Bänziger said the agent had knowingly participated in an illegal operation against a Swiss-Lebanese citizen, whom Israel suspected of committing terrorist acts.

Lawyers for the agent, who is being tried under the pseudonym Isaac Bental, have filed for an acquittal. They argue that he was acting solely to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel.

But Bänziger said there was no proof that the Swiss-Lebanese was engaged in terrorism, and that the case fell far short of being an emergency situation.

Switzerland has charged the agent with political espionage, acting illegally for a foreign country, and repeatedly using false identity documents.

Bental has admitted that all the charges against him are true.

A verdict is expected on Friday.

The trial is the first time a Mossad agent has ever been subjected to such scrutiny by an overseas court. Even so, the prosecutor and the judges agreed to allow the man to continue hiding his true identity - even from the court - on the grounds that revealing it could endanger his life.

The prosecutor has also refrained from interrogating the agent about Mossad's activities, confining his interrogation to the case in question.

The agent was arrested near Berne in 1998, when he and four others were caught trying to install a wiretap. The operation was to set up equipment to record telephone conversations of a Swiss-Lebanese man, whom Israel suspected of supporting terrorist acts by the Iranian-backed guerrilla group, Hezbollah.

The Swiss-Lebanese, Abdallah el-Zein, ran an Ahl El-Beit centre, which promotes adherence to Shi'ite Islam. Swiss police said they had found no proof that the centre was connected to Hezbollah.

The other four agents were released soon after their arrest, but Bental was jailed for two months and released on bail on condition that Israel sent him back to face trial.

swissinfo with agencies

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