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Two Swiss found guilty in corruption scandal

The Elf scandal spawned the biggest corruption trial in French history Keystone Archive

Two Swiss found guilty of money laundering in connection with France’s Elf Aquitaine bribery scandal have been given suspended sentences.

This content was published on October 8, 2004 - 17:03

Two co-defendants were acquitted of the same charges, which related to the illegal transfers of SFr46 million ($36 million) from Liechtenstein to Switzerland.

The Geneva court fined a fifth defendant SFr10,000 for forgery in the case.

The five Swiss were accused of acting on behalf of former Elf director Alfred Sirven, 77, 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.

All five worked for a Geneva trust company. After a day’s deliberation the jury found the trust company head and its director guilty of money laundering and forgery.

“Without a doubt, both understood that the sums involved were the proceeds of a criminal act,” said Judge Antoinette Stalder on Thursday.

The pair avoided jail after the judge gave them both suspended sentences: 18-months for the company director, and 15 months for his associate.

Prosecutor Daniel Zappelli had requested jail terms of two-and-a-half and two years respectively, asking the court to send out a strong message to money launderers.

The judge said both had been punished by the loss of the company, adding that the head of the company had served four months in remand pending trial, and the director suffers severe health problems.

Swiss cities

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 said millions of francs were transferred from Liechtenstein to Switzerland.

The Swiss authorities seized SFr12 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.

Elf scandal

It was one of the most publicised cases ever tried in Geneva.

Called to testify were three former Elf executives already convicted of embezzling from the oil giant – Sirven, former chairman Loïk Le Floch-Prigent, and former senior executive André Tarallo.

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

More than SFr450 million were drained from Elf coffers from 1989 to 1993, when the company was under French state ownership. It is now part of Total SA.

Last year, capping a decade-long investigation, a French court convicted a string former Elf officials for their involvement in the scam.

The probe lifted the veil on an elaborate system of "commissions" to foreign officials, with hidden kickbacks paid to Elf employees and contacts.

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

Le Floch-Prigent was found to have used company cash to buy luxury properties and fund a divorce settlement. He received a five-year sentence from the Paris court.

Sirven was the company's No. 2 executive. He fled France during the investigation and was later arrested in the Philippines.

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

In brief

The Geneva case, in which two Swiss were found guilty of money laundering and a third was fined for forgery on Thursday, 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.

Five Swiss were accused of laundering money for Sirven. Three were acquitted.

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