French and Swiss police will be able to pursue criminals over their common border as of next year. A joint customs and police cooperation centre is set to open at Geneva airport.This content was published on August 10, 2001 - 15:04
The centre and its 40 employees will help improve the exchange of information and coordination between the two police forces.
Officials say information often takes too long to be transferred between France and Switzerland. And because their movement is restricted by borders, police are regularly frustrated in their attempts to apprehend suspects.
One example of cross-border crime is the presence of gangs from Lyon operating in Geneva. Thieves can drive to the French city in just half an hour with stolen luxury vehicles and other goods.
The new centre should be able to warn French police quickly once the thieves have been identified, allowing the gendarmes to set up roadblocks and arrest them. "We also hope to stop criminals who have committed hold-ups," said Gérard Maury of the international security police in Geneva.
France and Switzerland
The budget for the centre should be between SFr5 and SFr6 million ($3.5 million), evenly divided between France and Switzerland. The federal authorities are expected to pay for two-thirds of the Swiss costs, with the rest coming from the cantons.
The site chosen for the centre in Geneva was never questioned by other cantons.
"We (canton Geneva) share more borders with France than we do with Switzerland," Maury told swissinfo. "It was natural to set it up here."
For the Swiss, the new centre will have a national application. All the cantonal police departments will be able to contact the centre to obtain information from the French authorities.
The Swiss also hope this will help them get closer to the European Union. The bilateral accord with France covers many points of the EU's Schengen border security accord, but it does not give the Swiss access to the Schengen information database.
Swiss justice ministry
"It is still a first step in the right direction," Olivier Pecorini of the Swiss justice ministry told swissinfo. "We have contacts with other European countries, even if they often more informal than this accord."
The French are more interested in working at a regional level. For them, the centre's job will be to fight local cross-border crime, mainly between Geneva and Lyon.
Later on, the activities could also concentrate on tax fraud and money laundering.
But the French side wants to take the cross-border cooperation gradually. "We want to take our time setting up this structure," said René-Laurent Ballaguy from the Ain prefect's office.
"Even if the coordination of money laundering investigations takes place in Bern and Paris, there is no reason why the police officiers in Geneva shouldn't talk about cases," said Pecorini.
This is the third such cross-border cooperation centre set up by France. The French are already working with the Germans and a centre with the Italians is being set up.
The Swiss also plan to collaborate with Italy. A joint centre could open in Chiasso next year.
swissinfo with agencies
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