Parliamentarian and former justice minister Christoph Blocher, accused of violating banking secrecy laws, does not have any immunity for the period before he was re-elected to the House of Representatives, according to a Senate committee.
A committee for the house had already come to a similar decision in April. The two parliamentary committees could not agree, however, on what the immunity situation was for Blocher after he regained a place in Bern in last October’s federal elections.
The House of Representatives committee, unlike that of the Senate, believed Blocher still enjoyed immunity after October.
Blocher spoke on Thursday of a “political decision”.
The issue now goes back to the House of Representatives committee.
The accusations levelled against the strongman of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party are linked to the resignation of Philipp Hildebrand as chairman of the Swiss National Bank on January 9.
Hildebrand resigned amid a furore over private foreign currency transactions made by his wife. He was unable to prove he did not have prior knowledge of these, raising the spectre of a conflict of interest.
The story was broken by the German-language weekly Weltwoche, which has close ties to the People’s Party.
In early January, the magazine published details of the Hildebrand family’s banking data. The data was illegally copied by an employee of Bank Sarasin, who handed it over to two People’s Party cantonal parliamentarians and to Blocher.
In the wake of the controversy, the Zurich public prosecutor’s office opened a criminal investigation into whether the four men violated Swiss banking legislation.
Defender of banking secrecy
As part of the criminal investigation, police have questioned and searched the homes and businesses of the four men, including Blocher. According to some press reports, Blocher went so far as to have prompted the bank employee to leak the data.
The accusations become more sensational when one considers Blocher’s role as a staunch defender of Swiss banking secrecy in the face of attacks from abroad. Countries such as the United States have been seeking information about suspected tax evaders with bank accounts in Switzerland.
Blocher has rejected the accusations, claiming he acted only as a “postman”. On December 5, he forwarded the information he had about Hildebrand’s currency dealings to the then Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
Indeed, on May 20, Calmy-Rey, from the centre-left Social Democratic Party, defended as “normal” Blocher’s role in passing on details.
But this version of events failed to convince the Zurich prosecutor’s office, which at the end of March formally requested Blocher’s immunity be revoked.
The case is further complicated by the fact that, so far, it remains unclear whether the actions at issue happened before or after Blocher’s recent re-election to parliament; or even if his period of office counts from the date he was elected, October 23, or from the date he took the oath of office, which was December 5.