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SWITZERLAND

List of French with Swiss accounts was ‘made up’

A former banker who threatened to blow the lid on a list of French politicians and "big names" with Swiss bank accounts fabricated the entire story, it was revealed on Friday. "This list never existed," his lawyer said.

List of French with Swiss accounts was 'made up'
Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a former employee of Swiss bank Reyl and Cie, testifies at a French National Assembly inquiry into tax fraud in July. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a key witness in a major French tax fraud investigation, is under arrest in Switzerland after breaching the country's banking secrecy laws by testifying in the investigation into France's former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac.

But Condamin-Gerbier's lawyer told Swiss financial daily Agefi the former banker had invented a list of French politicians with secret Swiss accounts.

"This list never existed," lawyer Edmond de Braun said, adding that his client had lied "to silence the threats that he was subject to at the time."

The former banker "now acknowledges that this was a very clumsy" strategy, he told Agefi.

Condamin-Gerbier was arrested in Switzerland last month shortly after he testified before a French parliamentary commission investigating Cahuzac, who resigned as budget minister in March.

He quit over an undeclared foreign bank account said to contain around 600,000 euros ($770,000).

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Outrageous French political scandals

Condamin-Gerbier, who remains in Swiss custody, told media he had given French investigators details of 15 French politicians and "big names" with undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland.

De Braun told Agefi his client became entangled in the affair after French daily Le Monde published a "defamatory" article about him.

"He wanted to correct what had been said about him through other media, and lost himself in this inextricable process. It was the worst thing he could have done," de Braun said.

Condamin-Gerbier's former employer Swiss bank Reyl and Cie, which is at the heart of the Cahuzac scandal and which is under investigation in France for enabling tax fraud, filed a criminal complaint against its former employee in June for among other things "falsifying documents and violating professional and commercial confidentiality."

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SKI

Franco-Swiss cold war breaks out over ski border car park

Switzerland and France are in a snowball fight over a cross-border car park which serves Swiss ski slopes but has been closed by the French due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Franco-Swiss cold war breaks out over ski border car park
The object of the Franco-Swiss war: parking lot Les Dappes. Photo by AFP

The Battle of Dappes Car Park — for the moment a rather cold war — has been rumbling for weeks, triggered by the different Covid-19 rules on either side of an invisible line in a snow-covered field.

The 650-space car park sits in the valley between the pistes of La Dole on the Swiss side, and Les Tuffes in France. It is 250 metres inside French territory.

In the Jura mountains, the summit of La Dole overlooks Lake Geneva in the west of Switzerland — a country which has kept ski slopes open despite the pandemic, while neighbouring France has closed theirs.

So the chair lifts for La Dole sit empty — because nobody can use the shared car park in France.

“I cannot understand how the French authorities can decide that the Swiss cannot go skiing in their own country. This is a unilateral decision,” fumed Gerard Produit, tourism chief in Switzerland's Nyon region.

“We are being held hostage by the politics of both countries,” he told AFP, deploring the “legal imbroglio”.

The frozen chair lifts are an unwelcome sight for Patrick Freudiger, the boss of the Tele-Dole ski lifts company.

“In mid-December, we organised a meeting between France and Switzerland to present the Covid plan” for La Dole, Freudiger told AFP.

But since the end of December, “we have received three successive orders banning the use of the car park” — the latest one being valid until February 3.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread

'They won't listen' 

The prefecture of the Jura local authority in France told AFP the car park is “likely to encourage the gathering of more than six people in a public space in France, the mixing of groups, and therefore the circulation of the virus”.

The wider Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region has the highest intensive care bed occupancy rate in France, while the Jura local authority area has one of the highest Covid-19 incidence rates in the country.

Freudiger is fuming that the French authorities did not try to reach an agreement on access to the car park.

Rubbing salt into the wounds, the site was refurbished last year thanks to Swiss investment, as part of a project to create a cross-border ski destination.

Freudiger also voiced surprise that the car park is shut while car-pooling car parks for French inhabitants who work in Switzerland remain open.

“We tried to get in touch with the prefect; we could not reach him. They do not hear us, they won't even listen to us,” said Produit.

See you in court 

Tele-Dole filed two appeals last Friday to the Besancon administrative court in France over the situation. A hearing is scheduled to take place next Monday.

Switzerland's Nyon region wrote to the Jura authorities on Thursday requesting talks “as soon as possible” on potential solutions and “financial compensation” for Tele-Dole.

According to Freudiger, the ski lifts have already lost 40 working days — almost half the season — and 300,000 Swiss francs (€280,000).

Tele-Dole cannot claim any financial assistance from the Swiss government, because there is nothing to stop ski stations remaining open during the pandemic.

Etienne Bovard, director of La Dole's Swiss Ski School, faces the same headache. The school has around 20 instructors but has had to stop all group lessons.

“In terms of turnover, we are 20 percent down at the moment, and if this continues throughout February… it will amount to an 85 percent loss,” he said.

“What's terrible is that it's the children,” who make up 80 percent of the clientele, “who are victims of this political game”.
 

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