Page last updated at 20:00 GMT, Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Profile: Carla Del Ponte

Carla del Ponte
Del Ponte sees herself as the victim of political pressure
Carla Del Ponte has been nicknamed "the new Gestapo", "the whore", "the unguided missile" and "the personification of stubbornness".

As the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor in The Hague, she has taken perverse pride in such labels. They show she is doing her job, she says.

The petite lawyer is known for her ruthless pursuit of fugitives but she leaves office at the end of 2007 with her two most high-profile targets still at large.

The former Bosnian Serb wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, have yet to be brought to trial to face charges of genocide.

Their whereabouts remain a mystery, despite intense diplomatic pressure on Belgrade and several Nato raids on suspected hideouts in the Bosnian Serb republic (Republika Srpska).

Ms Del Ponte has not masked her frustration at the failure to bring these men to book.

But the fact that the prosecutor's focus has narrowed to the pursuit of two fugitives testifies to the many, smaller successes of her eight-year tenure.

Numerous other men once wanted over the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s have been brought to trial by her office. They included the Serb leader regarded as a key instigator of the turmoil - Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic's extradition from Serbia to The Hague in 2001 was Ms Del Ponte's greatest coup as prosecutor.

When he died of natural causes in custody in 2006, some criticised The Hague for having taken too long to try him.

Ms Del Ponte said she deeply regretted Milosevic's death but defended the prosecution's painstaking construction of a case against him, arguing that anything less would have been a disservice to his victims.

Legal career

Ms Del Ponte was born in Lugano, Switzerland in 1947. She married and had a son, then divorced.

She began her career as a local lawyer, going on to become an investigating magistrate, a public prosecutor and the Swiss attorney-general.

In the late 1980s her investigation of the so-called "pizza connection" brought her into direct conflict with the Sicilian mafia.

Ms Del Ponte, along with investigative judge Giovanni Falcone, uncovered the connection between the Italian drug trade and Swiss money launderers.

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It was her enemies in Cosa Nostra who christened her "the whore" ("La Puttana").

They also tried to assassinate her. Half a tonne of explosives were discovered hidden in the foundations of Ms Del Ponte's Palermo home.

Fortunately, the device was discovered and she escaped unharmed. But her friend, Judge Falcone, was less lucky. He was blown up in his car.

His death only increased Ms Del Ponte's determination to fight organised crime.

In Switzerland, she campaigned against the bank secrecy for which Swiss financial institutions are famous. This upset the status quo and angered many.

It was a banking executive who branded her "the unguided missile".

But in the end, she won. Swiss banks reformed the secrecy rules that protected international criminals.

Famous targets

Milosevic was not her first high-profile target.

In the course of her career she has implicated former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in a financial scandal, frozen the bank accounts of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and seen that over $100m was confiscated from Raul Salinas, the brother of disgraced Mexican president Carlos Salinas.

The lawyer was not afraid of upsetting powerful people in the course of her work.

In January 2002, she was chastised for reportedly accusing the former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica of being an accomplice to war criminals for refusing to extradite Mr Milosevic.

The outburst was born of the obsessive perseverance that prompted her slain friend Giovanni Falcone to warmly dub her "the personification of stubbornness".

In 2003, Ms Del Ponte was also criticised by Rwandan authorities after her office in The Hague was tasked with prosecuting war crimes committed in the country during the 1990s.

Rwandan Prosecutor General Gerald Gahima said people in the country took "strong exception" to the fact that the investigation of more than one million deaths had been made a "part-time job of a prosecutor based on another continent".

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed that the job was too big for one person and she was duly replaced.

However, Ms Del Ponte maintained it was her vigorous approach that had motivated criticism of her work.

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