Spy sentence ends scandal

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, July 10 (JTA) — The conviction and suspended sentence of an Israeli spy appears to have ended a scandal that strained Israeli-Swiss relations.

But after the trial, a Swiss lawmaker charged that the wrong man may have been tried in the botched 1998 wiretapping.

After the Swiss Federal Court convicted a man known as Isaac Bental, the name the Mossad agent used for the trial, it suspended his one-year sentence and allowed him to leave immediately for Israel.

The defendant was one of five Mossad agents caught in 1998 as they tried to wiretap phone conversations of a man living in a Bern suburb.

The other agents were freed, but Bental was kept in custody because he had a diplomatic bag containing the tools used to install the eavesdropping gear.

During the trial, Bental admitted that each of the three charges against him was true — that he had acted illegally for a foreign country, conducted political espionage and used false foreign identification documents.

His lawyers argued that because the wiretap target was a Hezbollah member, Bental’s actions were justified to try to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel.

But last Friday, the five-judge panel found him guilty of all charges.

“He violated the sovereignty of Switzerland in an unrestrained and intolerable manner,” said the president of Switzerland highest court, Hans Wipraechtiger.

But the court rejected prosecutors’ demand that Bental be imprisoned for 15 months.

Israel expressed satisfaction with the sentence.

But at least one lawmaker did not.

“It is possible that the wrong man was on trial,” Bernhard Seiler, a member of the right-wing Popular Party, said in a leading Swiss newspaper on Sunday.

In 1998, Seiler was president of a parliamentary committee overseeing security services.

Swiss police maintain, however, that Bental is the man they arrested two years.

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