Switzerland’s First Woman Minister Resigns in Scandal
BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ The country’s first woman Cabinet member resigned Thursday after a prosecutor’s report said she was ″strongly suspected″ of leaking confidential information to her husband about a drug inquiry.
The announcement by Justice Minister Elisabeth Kopp brings to a head this nation’s biggest scandal in years, known as the ″Lebanon Connection.″
In her statement distributed by a staff member, Mrs. Kopp said she was stepping down in the ″in the interest of a quick, unconditional and comprehensive″ investigation.
Mrs. Kopp acknowledged for the first time that ″seen today, the telephone call (to my husband) was a mistake I regret.″ She said keeping her post had become ″humanly and politically″ impossible.
Last month, she announced she would resign at the end of February.
Defense Minister Arnold Koller, who also serves as Mrs. Kopp’s deputy, assumed the justice minister’s post as caretaker until Parliament approves her successor. It is expected to do so within several weeks.
Mrs. Kopp said Wednesday she did not believe she was guilty of wrongdoing.
A prosecutor’s preliminary inquiry into the leak, whose results were published Wednesday, said Mrs. Kopp was ″strongly suspected of violating an official secret in warning her husband to sever ties with a company under investigation in a major drug money-laundering scandal.
The inquiry by special prosecutor Hans Hungerbuehler said Mrs. Kopp and two aides passed on details of a ministry file on the investigation of Lebanese- controlled Shakarchi Trading A.G., where her husband, Hans W. Kopp, quit as board member after the warning.
Newspaper reports say he left the same day his wife called. She says she only passed on ″rumors″ she had discovered independently.
A week after the call, prosecutors announced they were investigating the $1 billion money-laundering operation. Shakarchi was among the companies and banks named by authorities as possibly involved, but no charges have been filed.
In Thursday’s statement, Mrs. Kopp said she had asked the president of the Parliament to take steps needed to lift her immunity from prosecution. She said she did so in the interest of a complete inquiry.
″I expect that this grave accusation will be resolved through a continuation″ of a public inquiry, she said.
Mrs. Kopp’s resignation follows nationwide debate of the affair, which has generated domestic banner headlines for almost three months.
Under Swiss law, a government official found guilty of violating an official secret can be fined or jailed for up to three years.
Mrs. Kopp, 52, rated the most popular Cabinet member in a public opinion poll in December. She also served as deputy interior minister and Swiss vice president, an honorific post rotating annually among the seven ministers.