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Swiss stand trial over Elf corruption scandal

Dirty money is alleged to have passed through a number of Swiss cities

(Keystone)

Five Swiss appeared in a Geneva court on Monday charged with money laundering in connection with France’s Elf Aquitaine bribery scandal.

They are accused of overseeing illegal transfers of SFr46 million ($36 million) from Liechtenstein to Switzerland and face up to five years in jail.

Fifty witnesses are expected to testify during the trial, which is due to last two weeks.

The five accused – four men and one woman – allegedly acted on behalf of former Elf director Alfred Sirven, who was sentenced to five years in jail by a French court in November.

He was found guilty of embezzling funds from the former state-owned oil giant for the purposes of bribery.

According to the indictment, "defendants engaged in deliberate acts to prevent identification of the source, discovery or confiscation of large sums of money they knew or had reason to believe were the proceeds of a criminal act".

Court documents allege that millions of francs were transferred from Liechtenstein to Switzerland via “a complex financial network”.

The Swiss authorities seized SFr11 million in spring 2001 following lengthy investigations.

While the Geneva-based office of Elf Aquitaine International lies at the centre of the investigation, Geneva was not the only Swiss city through which money allegedly flowed.

Funds reportedly passed through Lausanne, Zurich and Lugano, most of them ending up in Liechtenstein.

Deliberate acts

Sirven, 77, who was released on bail in May pending an appeal next month, has been called to testify in the Geneva case.

Lawyer Christian Lüscher, who is representing one of the accused, said he also wanted to question former Elf chairman Loïk Le Floch-Prigent and former senior executive André Tarallo, who were jailed last year along with Sirven.

All three were among 37 people accused of embezzling around SFr450 million from the oil firm from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

A French court heard that part of the money was used to pay bribes to secure contracts abroad.

The scandal spawned the biggest corruption trial in French history and touched the highest echelons of the country’s political elite.

Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas was sentenced to two years in jail in 2001 for receiving bribes from Elf, but later cleared on appeal.

“The advantage of this trial taking place in Switzerland is that it does not fall under the Official Secrets Act [of France],” said Lüscher. “It will therefore be possible to get to the bottom of the Elf affair.”

Elf affair

This is not the first time that the Swiss justice authorities have conducted inquiries related to the Elf corruption affair.

Swiss prosecutors were also asked to assist an investigation into the 1992 sale of the Leuna oil refinery, which was located in the former East Germany, to Elf.

It was alleged that bribes from the French company passed through Swiss bank accounts and were paid to German politicians.

German prosecutors said in 2001 that the Swiss were unable to provide evidence of corruption.

In July the same year Switzerland froze SFr800 million in suspected bribes allegedly channelled from Elf to help another French firm land a controversial contract to supply Taiwan with six frigates in 1991.

swissinfo

In brief

The case, which opened in Geneva on Monday, is linked to a major corruption case involving the former French state-owned oil firm, Elf Aquitaine.

The Swiss authorities tracked money from former Elf director Alfred Sirven from Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

They have accused five Swiss of acting on behalf of Sirven and laundering SFr46 million.

The Swiss investigation lasted four years.

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