A top Swiss court on Wednesday acquitted seven of nine defendants in one of the largest cigarette-smuggling cases to ever come to trial.

The Federal Criminal Court convicted two defendants of supporting a criminal organization, but cleared the others on charges of being part of a criminal enterprise that had smuggled cigarettes from Montenegro to Italy, and used Switzerland to launder more than $1 billion in proceeds.

Judge Walter Wuethrich said there was not enough evidence under Swiss law to convict the other men. “The court has reached the limit of the law,” he said.

None of the nine was convicted of money laundering.

Federal Prosecutor Lienhard Ochsner said the verdict was disappointing, adding that there was little legal basis for the acquittals.

Prosecutors’ Claims

The prosecution had claimed that between 1994 and 2001, the defendants used currency exchange offices in Switzerland to launder money from two Italian criminal groups, the Naples-based Camorra and the Apulia-based Sacra Corona Unita. The two groups had set up shop in the Adriatic coastal country of Montenegro and speed-boated one billion cigarettes per month across the Adriatic to Italy, where they sold the untaxed cigarettes on the black market. Prosecutors also claimed the Swiss-laundered money was then used to buy untaxed cigarettes in the Americas, which were then smuggled to Italy and sold at lower prices than legitimate, taxed cigarettes.

In the dock were four Swiss, three Italians, one Spaniard and one Frenchman, all who lived either in the Swiss cantons of Ticino, Jura and Vaud.

Only one man convicted was sentenced to an actual prison time. Paolo Savino, 70, will serve nine months plus a two-year suspended sentence. Pietro Virgilio, 64, will only serve time if he commits a crime during the next three years under the terms of his two-year suspended sentence.

Among those acquitted were Fredi Bossert, the Swiss owner of a currency exchange business, and Franco Della Torre, a Swiss financier.

The prosecution has said it will appeal the acquittals to the Swiss high court in Lausanne.

-- Beth Kampschror