A criminal investigation into alleged illegal spying activities by the United States in Switzerland – as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden – would be pointless, according to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
“Since the facts would have a large international context, any criminally relevant questioning would be conceivable only by way of mutual legal assistance. But this is ruled out for political offences,” said spokeswoman Jeannette Balmer.
“For that reason, such efforts on the part of Switzerland would be a lost cause from the very beginning.”
The government appears to have changed its mind since last December, when parliament tasked the prosecutor’s office with meeting Snowden to find out more about the implications of his revelations for Switzerland and to talk about asylum possibilities.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is currently living in Moscow to escape a US arrest warrant after lifting the lid on NSA snooping operations that allegedly used illegal means to tap into telephone and internet data, including in Switzerland.
He fled the US in June 2013 and in August 2104 he received a three-year Russian residency permit.
Balmer, quoted in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, explained that the scope of the investigation was limited – only the US activities involving the mission in Geneva was authorised, not the NSA’s general activities in Switzerland.
Balmer emphasised that questioning Snowden was no longer on the table. It was certainly possible to meet him “on a political level”, but “the contents of the conversation could not be used under criminal law”.
For Marcel Bosonnet, Snowden’s lawyer in Switzerland, the performance of the prosecutor’s office is just a manoeuvre to cover the government’s exertion of influence.
He told the NZZ am Sonntag that there were clearly adequate grounds for suspicion regarding forbidden political and economic activity by intelligence services, but the prosecutor’s office was “deliberately turning a blind eye” to the fact that government missions and NGOs in Geneva had been illegally bugged.