Ongoing fraud scandal adds data theft dimension
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / EDITOR’S NOTEPAD -Update, Friday 13 June: Geneva’s public prosecutor said this afternoon that three of those detained will be held, including Dominique Giroud, will be jailed until 14 July while the fourth person, the secret service agent who appears to be involved, will be held until 31 July while the investigation continues.
12 June – The Giroud wine fraud accusations scandal is taking on so many strange dimensions that it’s beginning to sound stranger than fiction. The latest: Dominique Giroud, one of Switzerland’s largest wine producers and merchants, from Sion, canton Valais, was arrested Thursday in Geneva, with three other people, on suspicion of hacking. One of those arrested is reported by RTS public broadcasting to be a Swiss secret service agent.
Geneva’s public prosecutor held hearings for the four, reports AFP, who are accused of computer data theft. According to AFP, one of the four is a hacker, another is a private detective. The four are suspected of trying to follow a Swiss tax office agent and journalists who have been covering the Giroud story, notably reporters for RTS public broadcasting and for Le Temps newspaper.
The public prosecutor’s office, in a statement, notes that data theft is a crime punishable by five years in prison. It said the four were being detained to avoid collusion, since their statements differed on a number of points, particularly concerning the involvement of the Swiss secret service. The Swiss secret service, for its part, told a Valais newspaper that it has not been in any way involved in the Giroud investigations, and its agent is suspended while he is investigated in Geneva.
Tax fraud, wine cutting – and religious buddies
Giroud has been under investigation by federal and canton Vaud tax authorities since 2011 on suspicion of tax fraud, with the federal office demanding CHF9.54 million in back taxes and fines. He has also been investigated by canton Valais authorities for a case of wine fraud, after he was accused by another producer of cutting one wine with another illegally. Canton Valais authorities are also contesting his request to change the name of his company from Giroud to Chateau Constellation, a request made at the end of March.
Thursday evening the story took yet another strange turn, with the link between Giroud and the secret service agent becoming clearer: RTS reports that the two have known each other for several years and both are members of the Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie-X (also called FSSPX) in Ecône, a breakaway conservative “traditionalist” group that developed after 1970 under the direction of Monseigneur Marcel Lefebvre, who ordained several priests without the Vatican’s approval. The group and the Church in Rome held reconciliation talks that ended unsuccessfully in 2012.
The private detective is reported by Geneva media to be under suspicion in the canton in a separate case involving corruption in the bankruptcy office.
Giroud, the sponsor, pales
Le Nouvelliste, Valais newspaper, reported Thursday evening that the Lausanne Hockey Club, one of several groups Giroud wine has been sponsoring, removed the winery’s logo from its web site during the day.