Swiss parliament to probe decision to buy US fighter jets

Swiss MPs are set to look into the government's decision to buy US F-35 fighter jets on the back of "public criticism" of the "transparency" of the decision.

Fighter jets career through the sky in Swiss flag colours
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

A Swiss parliamentary committee said Tuesday it would probe the government’s decision to purchase 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet.

The management scrutiny committee of the National Council lower house of parliament decided to investigate “the legality and advisability of certain aspects of the evaluation procedure taken for choosing the Swiss military’s new combat aircraft”, it said in a statement.

A sub-committee will start work in February and publish its findings “in due course”.

“We welcome this examination by the parliament and we will do everything to support it,” the Federal Department of Defence said in a tweet.

READ MORE: Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland’s current air defence set-up will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and the search for a replacement fleet was long and hotly contested.

The F-35A combat aircraft — already used by the US Air Force and several European countries — was chosen in June this year ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing, and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

The Swiss government said the F-35A had a marked technological advantage over the other candidates because it had powerful new systems that ensured information superiority.

At five billion Swiss francs ($5.5 billion, 4.7 billion euros), the procurement costs were around two billion francs cheaper than the second-lowest bidder, said the government.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision to buy the F-35As could be challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and anti-militarists keen to trigger a public vote.

The parliamentary scrutiny committee “wishes to establish transparency on certain points which have aroused criticism from public opinion”, it said.

Its sub-committee will focus on the methods used to assess the competing planes, the room for political manoeuvre with the United States and respect for the principles of public procurement rights.

Switzerland is famously neutral.

However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

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‘Something rotten in Switzerland’: US accuses Swiss of aiding Russia’s war efforts

A US government body has said Switzerland is a destination for “war criminals and kleptocrats”, accusing the Swiss of aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine.

‘Something rotten in Switzerland’: US accuses Swiss of aiding Russia’s war efforts

The US Government’s Helsinki Commission, an independent body promoting human rights, military security and economic cooperation, said in a briefing on Thursday that Switzerland was “Putin’s assistant” in the Russian leader’s brutal war on Ukraine. 

At the centre of the allegations is the Swiss financial system, which the commission says has allowed the storage of dirty money. 

“Switzerland has long been known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats who hide their loot there, and is a leading pioneer of the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies” the briefing read. 

British financier Bill Browder, who has been a frequent critic of Putin, told the meeting that Switzerland was letting itself be corrupted by Putin. 

“Something is rotten in Switzerland” Browder said. 

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis rejected the allegations, saying they are untrue. 

Cassis has seen Switzerland impose a range of sanctions on Russians, including some living in Switzerland. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

One Russian oligarch living in the Swiss city of Geneva applied for social assistance after his accounts were frozen. 

‘We cannot find them’

While Switzerland has taken steps in recent years to shed its status as a destination for dodgy money, critics argue that the Swiss system still makes it difficult to trace funds. 

Swiss corruption expert Mark Pieth told RTS that Switzerland was still one of the world’s biggest destinations for illicit funds. 

“The problem is that oligarchs have funds in Switzerland and we cannot find them because they are behind so-called letterbox companies and offshore accounts” he said. 

“Places are hidden. This means that only certain specialised lawyers really know who the beneficial owners are and they are not obliged to provide the federal government with information.”

On April 28th, 2021, in his first State of the Union address as US president, Joe Biden referred to Switzerland as a “tax haven”.

His exact words were: “A lot of companies also evade taxes through tax havens in Switzerland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands”.

ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland actually a tax haven?

The Helsinki Commission is a group made up of politicians, government representatives and parliamentary experts.