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Posted Friday, July 7, 2000

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For the corresponding German-language stories from Swiss newspapers see bottom of page
 Associated Press banner
Swiss Demand Imprisonment for Mossad Spy

By Alexander G. Higgins
Associated Press Writer

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – A Swiss prosecutor called Thursday for a 15-month prison sentence for an Israeli Mossad spy who admitted installing illegal wiretap equipment. But the agent’s lawyers said he should be acquitted because he was trying to prevent terror attacks. The agent, being tried under the pseudonym Issac Bental, was caught in February 1998 trying to bug the apartment of a Swiss-Lebanese citizen whom Israel suspected of supporting terrorist acts by the anti-Israeli Hezbollah. Defense attorney Ralph Zloczower said in his closing arguments that his client was obliged to collect information on terrorists even if it violated Swiss law.

“The danger of terror is omnipresent for Israel, its inhabitants and Jews,” Zloczower said. “It is essential that the Israeli people have an effective intelligence agency to assure that threats to the country are recognized well in advance so that they can be successfully combatted.” But deputy federal prosecutor Felix Baenziger argued there was no “immediate danger” to Israel. “The case presented falls far short of being an emergency situation,” he said.

The five-judge panel was expected to issue a decision Friday.

Bental was one of five Mossad agents caught installing wiretap equipment in the basement of an apartment building near the Swiss capital, Bern. The other agents – two men and two women – were released by local police after questioning, but Bental was handed over to federal police because he was carrying a diplomatic bag containing the wiretapping tools.

Bental spent 65 days in jail before being released on $2 million bail and the assurances of the Israeli government that he would return to face trial. The trial has caused a fury among Mossad agents, angered that one of their own should face such public investigation in a foreign country. Although other Mossad agents have been arrested abroad and even tried, the Swiss procedure has exposed Bental to unusual scrutiny.

Swiss prosecutors and the five-judge panel of the Federal Criminal Court allowed Bental to continue hiding his true identity – even from them – on grounds that revealing it could endanger his life.

They also have refrained from pressing him for answers about Mossad operations beyond what they already know about his failed mission. But the defendant has been required to sit on the bench next to his Swiss lawyers, where he can be seen by court spectators. His comments are translated from Hebrew into German for the court. Four Israeli diplomats sit behind him for moral support.

Bental admitted to each of the three charges against him – that he acted illegally for a foreign country, conducted political espionage and repeatedly used false foreign identity documents.

Bental’s lawyers have outlined links between the target of the operation, Abdallah el-Zein, and terrorist masters in Lebanon and Iran. El-Zein, a Lebanese-born car dealer who obtained Swiss citizenship by marriage, ran an Ahl El-Beit center, part of an international chain that promotes adherence to Shiite Islam.

But a Swiss police expert said investigators had been unable to prove that the worldwide Ahl El-Beit network were connected to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim guerrilla group that led the fight against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

Baenziger, the prosecutor, said Switzerland had always “done everything imaginable” to cooperate with Mossad and the agency should have sought Swiss help because that was the only legal way to carry out such surveillance. But defense attorneys said the evidence the Israeli agents had collected was insufficient to use standard procedures and persuade Swiss officials to setup the wiretap for them.square

pp Mossad-Agent steht in der Schweiz vor Gericht
pp «Herr Mossad» auf der Anklagebank
pp Mossad index
pp Agent Namenlos vor Gericht
pp Der Anvisierte als Zeuge
ppFreispruch gefordert


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