Swiss law lets corrupt MoD man keep 1m pounds

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The Independent Online
GORDON FOXLEY, the former senior Ministry of Defence official convicted of taking bribes, has succeeded in spiriting away pounds 1m.

Ministry of Defence police told the Independent yesterday that Foxley had paid more than pounds 1m into two Swiss banks, but their efforts to retrieve the money had been repeatedly resisted by the Swiss authorities. A spokesman for the Department of Justice in Berne confirmed that British requests for assistance have been rejected.

Foxley, whose activities are estimated to have cost at least 450 jobs at the Royal Ordnance factory in Blackburn, Lancashire, was convicted in November and is due to be sentenced next month. He was found guilty of accepting pounds 1.5m in bribes from foreign manufacturers in return for awarding them ammunition orders that Royal Ordnance would otherwise have expect to win. The judge told him to expect a custodial sentence.

Since then, lawyers for Foxley have produced medical certificates saying he is too ill to be jailed.

Detectives are resigned to never securing his fortune. They have traced the bulk of the bribes to accounts at two Geneva banks: Societe Banque Suisse in rue La Confederation and Credit Suisse at Place Bel-air.

In 1990, at an early stage in their investigation, police formally applied for a Commission Rogatoire, an order from the Swiss forcing the banks to disclose account details. The application, made via the Home Office to the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Berne, was rejected.

As a result of more evidence, two further applications were made, with the same response. 'I'm angry,' said an MoD detective, 'but there is a limit to what we can do. We've spent over two years going backwards and forwards to Switzerland. On each occasion, they've said there is not enough to substantiate an offence under Swiss law.'

Among the documents seized in police raids was a letter to Foxley from an associate in Switzerland, a former magistrate, boasting of his knowledge of the law and his skill in keeping the money beyond the reach of the British authorities.

Folco Galli, a spokesman for the Department of Justice in Berne, said Foxley had not done anything that would constitute a crime in Switzerland.

'We can only provide assistance if there is a double offence, involving criminal activity in Switzerland. There has to be a double indictment. The problem is that in this case there is no corruption covered by our penal code - there was no corruption of a member of the Swiss state.'

Jack Straw, Labour's local government spokesman and MP for Blackburn, described the Swiss decision as appalling. He said he would be taking up the issue with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and the Swiss ambassador.

Mr Straw has also written to Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, accusing Foxley and his advisers of 'making a mockery of the judicial process'.

It was inevitable, claimed the MP, that 'any sane defendant who has been convicted of charges like Foxley's, and who faces the prospect of a long period in prison, is likely to feel ill when he comes up for sentence.

'This is inherent in the process of punishment. But why should some well-heeled middle-class defendants be given such accommodation by the courts, when everyone knows that had Foxley robbed a bank of pounds 1.5m, he would have received no such sympathy?'