Swedish Radio today reveals new information on the multi-billion dollar purchase of Gripen fighter aircraft by Switzerland. Top secret documents show the Swedish Embassy in Bern has been more deeply involved in the Swiss internal political process than previously known.
In less than three weeks Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to buy 22 JAS Gripen for the cost of 23 billion — An important deal for both Saab and the Swedish government.
The Swiss Parliament said after a lengthy process last year YES to the procurement. It was a process that Swedish Radio can today show the Swedish embassy actively tried to control.
After Swedish Radio News’ previous revelation in February, on the embassy’s plan to affect the referendum, there were many reactions from both yea and nay-sayers in Switzerland, who criticized the Swedish involvement.
The new documents describe an earlier process: The embassy’s work to get the Swiss Parliament itself to vote yes.
The documents show the Swedish ambassador mapping the views of all members of the Security Policy Committee (SiK/N) in the large chamber (Nationalrat) on the Gripen deal. This is the parliamentary committee that will later hold a crucial vote on the purchase. The list identifies the uncertain and the critical parliamentarians.
Ambassador Per Thöresson gave the list to Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer and wrote home to Stockholm:
“He appreciates our highly open discussions and willingly receives our proposals on which parliamentarians need to be processed and how, etc.”
The week before the crucial vote Thöresson met, “with the utmost discretion” as he himself wrote, several of the identified politicians. A meeting took place at the embassy, where Thöresson managed to get a skeptical party leader to pledge that his party colleagues in the committee will vote yes.
Thöresson aimed to help the party leader, to supply him with arguments to explain his change of heart. “He must save his face”, the ambassador wrote in one of the reports.
The day after, Thöresson traveled to Zürich, to try to persuade the largest Gripen critic on the committee: Thomas Hurter. Thöresson described the meeting in a letter:
“I gave Hurter the same information that was given to FDP and got the distinct impression that he would rather escape voting “no” to the procurement (or abstain), and thus end up in the “wrong” group. Together, we went over the arguments he could use in order to explain that he’d changed his mind (!).”
Now professor of international law, Said Mahmoudi, says to Swedish Radio News there are several things that are questionable in the ambassador’s actions:
“He does not just meet people and talk to them; he also tries to influence how they should act. He provides people with lists, with recommendations on what to do and not do. It is aggressive. It is on the verge of being considered interference in the internal affairs of Switzerland,” says Said Mahmoudi.
Five days from the important Gripen vote last summer it was the Swedish ambassador who planned the presentation for the Parliamentary Committee (SiK/N), along with Defence Minister Ueli Maurer. The Ambassador also provided Maurer with specific advice on how he should act before the members.
The Swedish embassy’s efforts were rewarded. The committee voted in favour, 14 for and 9 against (with two abstentions). It paved the way for a yes vote in the full House, and in September the decision was taken – Switzerland will buy Gripen.
But early Per Thöresson understood that that there was going to be a referendum. This will be held on the 18th of May. He wrote to Stockholm: “A lot of advocacy remains… ”
Professor Said Mahmoudi comments: “The limit is not defined but a hunch says simply that it is quite on the verge of being interference.”
Ambassador Per Thöresson declines to comment to Swedish Radio News, on the grounds that the information contained in the documents is classified.