Police seek man cwho met the cult leaders

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POLICE on three continents trying to unravel the mystery of the ritualistic murder and suicide of 54 cult members last week, are looking for an elderly, elegant man who handled the sect's complicated finances through secret Swiss bank accounts.

Camille Pilet, the suspected 'bagman', is a 68-year-old former sales executive for a leading Swiss watch firm, who was originally reported to be in police protection after the discovery of the bodies in two Swiss villages last week. But yesterday Swiss investigators said they were keen to interview Mr Pilet, who was last seen with two senior cult members - Joseph di Mam bro and Luc Jouret - the weekend before the bodies were discovered.

Mr Pilet signed the bill on his credit card after spending an evening in discussion with the three men. Other cult members spent a long evening at a hotel on 30 September, five days before the macabre tragedy. The meeting, which was half-way between the two villages where 48 people were found dead last Wednesday may have been called to organise it.

Post-mortem examinations were conducted yesterday on the charred bodies found in two burnt-out Alpine chalets in Granges-sur-Salvan and police confirmed that the body of the cult's leader, Mr di Mambro, a 70-year-old French-Canadian, was among the 25 dead in the village last week. The whereabouts of either Luc Jouret, a 47-year-old Belgian homeopathic doctor, or Mr Pilet are unknown.

Investigators suspect the cult's leaders used the group to finance illegal arms trafficking and that profits were laundered in Swiss banks. The Swiss Bank Corporation has launched an investigation into its links with the cult and numerous accounts were frozen last weekend.

It is also believed that a manager at one of the Geneva branches was involved with the cult and acted as its agent in the purchase of a farmhouse in the village of Cheiry where victims were found.

Canadian police were notified by The Royal Bank of Canada in July about suspicious movements of hundreds of thousands of dollars through an Ottawa account of a cult member, but they have not released further details.

The Swiss are asking themselves why the tragedy happened in their country. The newspaper, the Journal de Geneve speculated yesterday that the Swiss obsession with privacy makes the country an ideal base for cults. 'To prosper, sects also need secrecy. And Geneva and Switzerland at large are distinguished by the extreme in-bred discretion of their inhabitants.'

The newspaper said that the natural Swiss reticence to appear to be prying into each other's private lives, even within the family, helps cults to recruit members. 'Parents and children sometimes live alongside without having the slightest real contact,' the newspaper said. 'At table, at family reunions, we talk about facts and acts and rarely about feelings.'

The Swiss look for support and understanding outside the circle of their immediate family and this could explain, the paper said, why Geneva and Zurich had among the most psychiatrists and psychologists per head of population in the world.