Swiss Spy for Soviets Freed Early
GENEVA (AP) _ A general imprisoned in 1977 for passing Swiss military secrets to the Soviet Union and reviled as one of this neutral nation’s worst traitors was freed Thursday after serving about two-thirds of his term.
Officials said Brig. Gen. Jean-Louis Jeanmaire, 78, was released on probation for good behavior. He had been sentenced to 18 years.
Jeanmaire always portrayed himself as a fervent anti-communist, has tried twice to have his case reopened, and has said in recent interviews he would continue the effort to clear his name.
The secret military court that convicted him said he was not motivated by ideology or financial gain, but by weakness of character, vanity and resentment about a delayed promotion.
It found Jeanmaire guilty on June 17, 1977, of passing vital defense information to Soviet diplomats in Bern, the Swiss capital, between 1962 and 1975. The sentence, including expulsion from the army, was the stiffest ever given on a Swiss citizen for peacetime espionage.
Prosecutors said he did ″irreparable harm″ and gave away information of ″highest importance.″ A government report said he betrayed mobilization plans for Switzerland’s militia army.
After his release from Bellechasse prison in Fribourg canton northeast of Geneva, Jeanmaire was reached by telephone at his Bern apartment and told The Associated Press he would not comment for a few days. He is expected to spend the time celebrating with friends.
The conservative Neue Zuercher Zeitung said Thursday: ″One can assume the Jeanmaire case will not come to rest so soon. A veil of uncertainty will always stay over the affair since the files must for understandable reasons remain secret.″
When he retired in 1975, Jeanmaire headed the air raid protection corps. It was a non-combat unit, but he was a member of the general staff and had inside knowledge of all army branches.
Jeanmaire was under surveillance by federal police for a year before his arrest Aug. 9, 1976, on a street in Lausanne. Two months later, before a preliminary investigation was completed, Justice Minister Kurt Furgler spoke of in Parliament of ″an abominable deed.″
Col. Vassily Denissenko was the central Soviet figure. He was a military attache at the Bern embassy in 1959-64 who won Jeanmaire’s confidence and friendship.
Marie-Louise Jeanmaire, the general’s wife, was acquitted of complicity. The defense said Denissenko seduced Mrs. Jeanmaire, who has died since the trial, but prosecutors accused her of willingly helping her husband.
The case was said to have been broken by a tip from West German intelligence. It caused a national furor in Switzerland, where the army is accorded great respect.
Jeanmaire told the court in a closing statement he was caught up in the affair unwittingly and was too frightened to inform authorities.
Swiss media revived the case as his release drew near and some newspapers repeated suggestions by his supporters that the brigadier was the scapegoat in a coverup by superiors.
A statement Tuesday from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office dismissed this argument as ″contention, speculation and absurd portrayals,″ but indicated the secrecy requirement precluded a detailed rebuttal.
In a TV interview broadcast Tuesday, Jeanmaire said he delivered only minor data with the purpose of promoting military deterrence by proving Switzerland’s preparedness to Moscow.
Andre Perret, his lawyer, claimed the pressure of public opinion produced an excessive sentence.
Blick, a tabloid, quoted Jeanmaire recently as saying: ″I was not guilty as convicted. It was never my intention to commit treason. My case was played up and they had to follow through, until I was sentenced.″
By contrast, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung commented: ″The fact remains that the ex-brigadier general, among other things, passed secret documents to Soviet military attaches. He was sentenced by a proper military court in proper proceedings.″
The independent Basler Zeitung said: ″Jeanmaire was never a ‘spy of the century.’ But in the same vein, his sentence was not a ’scandal of the century.‴