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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK


World: Europe

Secret Swiss army claims withdrawn

Federal prosecutor Carla del Ponte: No evidence to support the claims

A former military accountant, Dino Bellasi, has withdrawn claims that he was ordered to set up a secret army independent of Switzerland's government.

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor Carla del Ponte said Mr Bellasi had retracted statements that he was working for intelligence service chief Peter Regli when he embezzled the equivalent of $5.8m from the defence ministry and built up a huge weapons arsenal.


The BBC's Claire Doole: "The fraud went unchecked even after Bellasi left the service"
Mr Bellasi's lawyer, Andre Seydoux, said his client regretted the false allegations made in an attempt to protect himself.

Mr Bellasi had alleged that he diverted the funds over a five-year period to finance, equip and train a new secret army.

Ms Del Ponte - who is shortly to become chief prosecutor at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal - said that the inquiry against Mr Regli and three other high-ranking officials was closed.

She said there was no evidence to support Mr Bellasi's claim that he diverted the money to train and equip a shadow army.

Embezzling

Mr Bellasi is in custody on charges of embezzling the Swiss Defence Ministry of nearly $6m.

The federal prosecutor added that investigations would continue into the actions of Fred Schreier, chief of the strategic information service, whose signature appeared on documents used by Mr Bellasi to obtain money.

Investigators last week uncovered an arsenal with 220 weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition belonging to Mr Bellasi.

Training

The defence ministry said on Tuesday that Mr Bellasi had carried out at least 11 training sessions with small groups of soldiers on an army training ground deep in the Alps.

The BBC correspondent in Switzerland, Claire Doole, says the allegations, though retracted, have exposed serious shortcomings in the Swiss intelligence service.

Before Mr Bellasi's retraction, the Swiss Defence Minister, Adolf Ogi, had promised a thorough investigation into the scandal.



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