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Top Swiss politician calls for inquiry to clear his name

Peter Hess faces the media to answer questions about his controversial directorships Keystone

The speaker of the House of Representatives in Switzerland, Peter Hess, has again denied any wrongdoing by being director of three Caribbean letter box companies. He rejected calls for his resignation, and said he would welcome an independent investigation of the three companies.

This content was published on May 8, 2001 - 16:07

Hess told a news conference in Bern on Tuesday he wanted to see an inquiry into the companies' business, and allegations they might have been involved in money laundering.

He has asked self-regulatory authorities in his home canton of Zug to look into the papers that he has, as well those of the companies - two of which are registered in Panama and the other in the British Virgin Islands.

But he said that since the companies did not provide any financial services for other organisations, they did not have to register under the money laundering law.

The finance ministry on Monday contradicted Hess's claim that the companies were in line with money laundering regulations. A spokesman said they were not registered with a self-regulatory organisation, although - as a lawyer - Hess was.

The centre-left Social Democrats criticised Hess. The head of the party's parliamentary group, Franco Cavalli, told swissinfo that if Hess was found to have lied, he would have to resign immediately.

The Christian Democrats expressed suppport for Hess, a member of the party. But the leader of the parliamentary party, Jean-Philippe Maitre, criticised the finance ministry for its statement on Monday.

A number of political opponents and analysts have questioned Hess's judgement. They said it was insensitive to be involved in companies in countries known to have a reputation for money laundering.

The president of the centre-right Radical Party, Gerold Bürrer, told swissinfo that Hess should have been more cautious. He said Hess was "in the window of Swiss politics" and the incident was therefore potentially damaging to Switzerland's reputation.

Swiss money-laundering expert, Mark Pieth, told swissinfo that the reputation of companies in Panama and the Virgin Islands had been improving steadily in recent years. He said Hess's assertion that he had only been involved with the companies for between three and five years coincided with the period when the improvements had been made.

The three companies were part of a list of 48 directorships which Hess submitted to parliament's register of members'interests last week.

His directorships also hit the headlines in February when it was revealed he was on the board of British American Tobacco which was alleged to have done business with a cigarette smuggler. Hess resigned immediately.

swissinfo with agencies

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