4 June 2004
GENEVA – A German judge condemned Swiss judicial officials for “dragging their feet” in investigating an extensive tobacco-smuggling operation which funds ETA, it was reported Friday.
Judge Hans-Jurgen Kolb, who has spent six years investigating the case, told the Swiss daily Le Temps that the cigarette trafficking began in 1992 or 1993 and continued until at least 2001.
According to a national security report issued by Swiss federal police, eight Swiss residents are suspected of mounting the operation.
Those parties “laundered billions of euros in Swiss banks, and ETA is suspected of benefiting from the transactions,” the report said.
The cigarettes were taken to Switzerland by truck and left temporarily in the free port of Buchs (in the canton of St. Gallen), near the Austrian border.
Officially bound for Bulgaria, the loads were actually taken first to Macedonia and then to Montenegro.
They were later transported in speed boats to Italy and shipped from there to other European countries, such as Spain and Germany.
The cigarettes eluded tobacco taxes, as well as an embargo the United Nations had imposed on trading with the former Yugoslavia.
“Damage to the coffers of the European Union can be calculated in billions of euros, at a minimum,” Kolb said.
Suspects include the head of a real estate agency headquartered in Delemont (in the canton of Jura) who owns several hotels in Spain, Le Temps reported.
Kolb told Le Temps he has “evidence that proceeds from the contraband were transferred to the ETA through Swiss accounts.”
The transfers, however, were not direct and were not further scrutinized, partially due to a lack of will on the part of Swiss authorities, the judge added.
“Judicial cooperation with Switzerland has been tough,” Kolb said. “As soon as something impinges on the image of the Swiss financial market, everything grinds to a halt.”
“Those responsible for the cigarette smuggling haven’t been able to be brought to justice, because I’m still awaiting evidence which should be provided by the Swiss,” Kolb said.
The Swiss attorney general’s office, which handles cases involving terrorist financing, has, so far, refused to reveal whether it is investigating possible links between the alleged tobacco smugglers and ETA.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news