Body of Solar cult leader 'discovered in Switzerland'

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The Independent Online
THE BODY of the wanted cult leader, Joseph di Mambro, has been identified and the hunt for the killer of up to 51 members of the Order of the Solar Temple is now focused on his charismatic deputy, Luc Jouret.

Swiss television reported that the body of Mr di Mambro had been found and, in a separate development, his passport had turned up in France, where it was delivered to the French Interior Ministry in a package addressed to Charles Pasqua, the minister.

However, the whereabouts of Mr Jouret are still unknown and police are no closer to unravelling the mystery behind the murders and the collective suicide of cult members in Switzerland and Quebec last week.

Swiss investigators are now examining Mr Jouret's dental records to see if he is among the dead, while, at the same time they are conducting an international search through Interpol.

At each of the cult's properties, sophisticated, delayed-action incendiary devices were set, with the intention of destroying evidence. One device, at the farmhouse in the village of Chiery, which was the sect's headquarters, failed.

The device apparently failed because the village's telephone lines were cut on the day of the murders. It was attached to butane gas bottles and plastic bin-bags that had been filled with petrol. Had they worked, they would have destroyed the secret chapel, where 23 bodies were found. Some people were brutally murdered while others apparently committed suicide.

On Saturday, police discovered a sophisticated incendiary bomb at a villa used by the cult in southern France. It was similar to the device that was used to set on fire houses owned by the cult in Switzerland and Quebec.

The villa near Toulon was empty and the French authorities defused the device which, like those in Chiery, consisted of bottled gas fuel containers and bin liners filled with petrol. The device was connected to electrical wiring that could have been detonated by an incoming telephone call, according to French sources.

The investigators have also uncovered what they say are 'astonishing surprises' about the cult's finances, but they have refused to elaborate. Reports from Canada suggest that Mr di Mambro, 70, who was known as the 'little Napoleon' to members, was an illegal weapons dealer. The cult would have provided an ideal front for his activities, enabling him to launder the profits without attracting undue attention because of the cult's charitable status.

Swiss judicial authorities last night said they had frozen an account held at a Geneva branch of the Societe Banque Suisse. A spokesman said the bank, one of Switzerland's three largest, had begun an inquiry into the affair.

So far the Swiss investigators say they have found no evidence of either weapons trafficking or money laundering. But Swiss banking secrecy laws could prevent full disclosure of what they uncover. Radio Canada has alleged that British, Swiss and Canadian banks handled the sect's finances and that some had been channelled through BCCI before the bank was closed in 1991.

Swiss television reported yesterday that Mr di Mambro's body had been identified. 'A member of his family who arrived from France has clearly identified the body of the man considered to be the number one in the Order of the Solar Temple,' the report said.

The autopsies on the 48 cult members found dead in Switzerland indicate that only some committed ritual suicide and that many were murdered. Some of the 23 victims in Chiery were shot repeatedly in the head and then hooded with plastic bags.

Another victim was pumped full of bullets after he was hooded, the investigative judge, Andre Piller, said at the weekend.

In Morin Heights, Quebec, police said that a British woman, Nikki Dutoit, her infant son Christopher and husband Toni were killed several days before fire destroyed the house.

Their bodies were found on Thursday in a house co-owned by Mr di Mambro and Mr Jouret. Two other charred bodies were found in the house last Tuesday and police believe they were adults who committed suicide.