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‘Drug money’ was Jewish donations: lawyer

The main Swiss suspect in what is believed to be a vast drug money laundering ring claims the large sums handed to Parisian clients came from Jewish community donations, his lawyer told the Le Temps daily.

"The cash given to his Parisian clients was gathered from the French Jewish community, wanting to donate to different people and religious schools," said Josiane Stickel-Circurel, who represents a Swiss wealth manager, originally from Morocco, at the heart of the French-Swiss probe.

"He has never been aware of any cannabis trafficking," she told the paper.

The man's arrest was part of a police crackdown in France and Switzerland following an investigation that was launched in February into the smuggling of tonnes of cannabis from Morocco to the Paris region via Spain.

A court on Friday ordered the detention of the main Swiss suspect and his brother, a wealth manager with the HSBC Geneva bank, stressing the gravity of the charges and the risk they would flee.

Their arrests came in parallel with 17 arrests in France last week, with a deputy mayor of a Paris district, Florence Lamblin of the Green Party, among those charged in the case.

According to Swiss media reports, the two brothers are suspected of laundering cash through a Geneva-based finance company, with the possible unwitting participation of French tax evaders.

Lawyer Stickel-Circurel told Le Temps on Monday that her client had knowingly helped tax evaders, "but he had no idea where the money came from."

A raid on the Geneva home of one of the brothers led to the discovery of €800,000 in cash, and 160 watches and jewels worth an estimated €2 million in a hidden safe, Le Temps previously reported.

A third person, a woman working for the main suspect, was also arrested along with the two brothers last Wednesday. She has been set free but must remain available for questioning.

The Swiss group Inter-Community Coordination Against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD) expressed harsh criticism last week of how several of the country's media described the suspects as "belonging to the Moroccan Jewish community."

The association said the reports could contribute to stigmatizing the entire Jewish community and said it was considering legal action.

CICAD chief Johanne Gurfinkiel told AFP on Monday however that his organization had nothing against the media, quoting Stickel-Circurel's claim that the money under investigation had originated from Jewish donations.

"The media are doing their job when they report the lawyer's words," he said, pointing out that the previous articles did not have grounds to mention the suspects' religious affiliation.

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DRUGS

Switzerland green lights recreational marijuana trial

Switzerland’s National Council has approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use. If it is to be legalised however, the government says it must be organic and grown locally.

Switzerland green lights recreational marijuana trial
Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP

The study, which was approved by the National Council on Tuesday, hopes to find out more about the effects that a controlled legalisation of the drug would have in Switzerland. 

The decision to embark upon the trial was to be made in March but was delated due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study wants to understand how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation are also set to be studied. 

“The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalise cannabis,” said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Social Democrats), a spokesperson for the responsible committee. 

Only people who currently use cannabis – and can prove it – will be allowed to participate. Proof will be determined through a hair sample. 

‘Organic and Swiss’

Although legalisation is not a foregone conclusion, the National Council added that if cannabis was to be legalised it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and must be organic. 

Minister of Health Alain Berset said that a legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”, Berset said. 

200,000 cannabis users in Switzerland

An estimated 200,000 people smoke cannabis products in Switzerland. Those in favour of the new trial argue that this shows the war on drugs has failed – and that legalisation will 

Since 2011, the sale of cannabis products containing up to one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the ingredient that makes users high – has been legal in Switzerland.

Regular strength cannabis and other associated products such as hashish are also illegal, although small amounts (less than ten grams) are decriminalised and will only attract a 100 franc on-the-spot fine. 

A poll by the World Health Organisation showed that more teenagers smoked in Switzerland than in any other European country, with 27 percent of 15 year olds having smoked at least once. 

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is also heavily restricted in Switzerland, with only one product – CBD oil – legally available for sale. 

 

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