What is the dark side of Switzerland

The dark side of Switzerland: arms trade

Updated

Switzerland was much more deeply involved in arms deals with the apartheid regime in South Africa than previously known. Switzerland was also an important supplier for the secret nuclear weapons program, says historian Peter Hug in an interview.

Agents of the intelligence service had also initiated specific arms deals, said Hug in an interview with the National Fund magazine “horizonte”.

Hug examined for the national research program NRP 42 & “Relations between Switzerland and South Africa” the military, arms industry and nuclear relations between Switzerland and South Africa during the apartheid period. The extent to which Swiss industry had undermined Swiss legislation and UN sanctions surprised him, Hug told the magazine of the Swiss National Science Foundation. After the so-called stop of arms exports in 1963, illegal deliveries from Switzerland continued on a large scale.

Some of them became public with the Bührle trial of 1970. The files he inspected from South Africa today show, however, that only around a third of the illegal deliveries made by the Swiss arms industry between 1963 and 1970 were known at the time because of the Federal Council's limitation of criminal investigations. The arms industrialist Dieter Bührle and three of his employees were convicted by the Federal Criminal Court on November 27, 1970 for illegally delivering guns and ammunition to South Africa.

According to Hug, the arms industry relations between Switzerland and South Africa have massively strengthened again after the mandatory UN arms embargo of 1977. Switzerland was the only country that had fundamentally denied its applicability. According to the historian, the importance of Swiss industry for the former secret nuclear weapons program in South Africa was also great. According to its own statements, the Sulzer Brothers AG in Winterthur contributed to the secret uranium enrichment in the hundreds of millions. The VAT company in Buchs (SG) also supplied essential parts, namely valves.

With regard to the intelligence service cooperation between Switzerland and South Africa, Hug came to the conclusion that it went back further than was previously known and also triggered specific police, political and business measures. On Swiss initiative, an intensive exchange of intelligence reports began in the early 1970s. Denunciations from the South African side would have led directly to foreign police measures against apartheid critics in Switzerland, said Hug. Agents had also initiated specific arms deals.

According to the National Fund magazine, Hug's investigation has been completed, but may only be published after the official manuscript has been checked. In April 2003, the Federal Council blocked access to the relevant files in the Federal Archives for research work because it feared that Swiss companies would be discriminated against in the US class action lawsuits. Hug said he immediately sought counter-files in South Africa and had success in court. (dapd)