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War materials Air defence parts can be returned to Saudi Arabia, says Swiss ministry

Saudi warplanes fly over the capital Riyadh during a graduation ceremony in 2009

Saudi warplanes fly over the capital Riyadh during a graduation ceremony in 2009

(Keystone / Hassan Ammar)

Parts for Saudi Arabia’s air defence systems, which have been maintained and repaired in Switzerland, can be re-exported back to the Gulf state, the Swiss economics ministry says. 

In October 2018, the economics ministry temporarily blocked the re-exportation of spare parts and assembly pieces for Saudi Arabia’s air defence systems which had been repaired in Switzerland, together with new parts. 

The ban was introduced by the Federal Council (executive body) following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, last October. 

The preventive step was taken by Switzerland while awaiting decisions by the United Nations and the European Union towards Saudi Arabia regarding the Khashoggi controversy, the ministry said. 

On Wednesday, the head of the economics ministry informed the government that there was no legal basis to support the Swiss decision and that it planned to lift the export ban. 

“The lack of a legal basis for the decision not to re-export made it de facto a measure confiscating property owned by Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said in a statementexternal link

All requests for the export of war materials are checked by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) on a case by case basis, together with the foreign ministry. 

In accordance with a government decision from April 2016, export requests where there is a high risk the items may be used to violate human rights or in the ongoing Yemen conflict are systematically refused, the economics ministry said. 

Controversial issue 

The issue of exporting war materials is sensitive in Switzerland. In October 2018, the government abandoned newly-hatched plans to ease Swiss weapons exports following public outcry. Parliament has also been debating the issue of stricter controls for arms exports, while a people’s initiative to prevent the Swiss government from relaxing rules for exports to conflict-ridden states is pending.  

Thursday’s development comes just a week after the Swiss foreign ministry banned the aircraft manufacturer Pilatus from operating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Pilatus has previous helped Saudi Arabia with the maintenance of military training aircraft. 

Keystone-SDA/sb

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