Swedish Radio News has obtained documents outlining Sweden’s plans to impact a referendum in Switzerland which could determine whether or not the Swiss air force purchases 22 new Jas Gripen fighter jets. A number of defense authorities, several members of the Swedish Cabinet Office as well as seven Swedish ministers have been made aware of the plans.
The issue of foreign meddling in the Swiss referendum is highly controversial. That became clear a few weeks ago when rumors spread that Gripen manufacturer Saab had financed campaigners who are in favor of the Swiss air force deal. Saab faced a lot of criticism and media attention then.
Now, several Swedish ministers are denying any knowledge of the secret deal which the Swedish state is involved in. One of them is Minister for Trade, Ewa Björling.
“I don’t know anything about that. I think that question should be put to Saab and to FXM, the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency,” Björling tells Swedish Radio News. She adds that, to her knowledge, the government is not involved in any such activities.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, also denies any knowledge of Sweden’s efforts to impact the Swiss referendum.
“No, we’re not involved in the Swiss referendum,” says Bildt. He adds that the Swedish embassy in Switzerland does cooperate with the Swiss Department of Defence, but that is par for the course, says Bildt.
Asked whether Sweden is involved in any attempts to secure a yes vote in the referendum, Bildt says: “I don’t know and there’s no way I could know about all the Swedish activities within a referendum campaign. I hardly know what’s going on in the Swedish election campaign.”
But in the past few months, Björling and Bildt, along with five other Swedish ministers, have received classified reports from the Swedish ambassador in Switzerland, Per Thöresson. Those reports outline the entire Swedish operation.
In the letters, Thöresson explains that the Swiss minister for defence, Ueli Maurer, had asked Sweden to assist Switzerland on the referendum. His wish was for Sweden to arrange as many activities as possible that would encourage the Swiss people to vote in favour of the Jas Gripen deal.
The activities started this autumn. There were many talks and meetings, including one where Thöresson, Saab representatives, Swedish and Swiss army officers and representatives of various authorities discussed the plans for Sweden’s involvement.
The Swedish embassy would arrange an exclusive interview with Bildt and place positive articles about Sweden in Swiss media. Sweden would also arrange a series of concerts and seminars.
Thöresson wanted Swiss television to cover Maurer’s participation in this year’s Vasa ski race in Sweden. And Maurer wanted to arrange regular air shows with Gripen jets in Switzerland, including during the Alpine Ski World Cup in March. The idea is to give the Swiss people as positive an image as possible of Sweden.
According to Thöresson’s classified letter, Maurer had “given his blessing” to the detailed plan. In a letter dated December 17th, Thöresson wrote: “The only thing that’s left to do now is to win the referendum.”
Reporters from Swedish Radio asked Thöresson about the secret plan. He answered: “This is not a list intended to impact public opinion, it’s a list of all the events that we have planned and I have deemed that other people should be informed about those plans so that we, on the Swedish side, can coordinate our activities, and so that we don’t send out contradictory signals.”
Thöresson did not want to answer follow-up questions from Swedish Radio News, saying he cannot comment on classified documents.
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