Seven months after Swiss parliament voted to outlaw the provision of mercenaries by Swiss-based security firms, British security contractor Aegis, one of the world’s largest working in conflict zones, is pulling its holding company out of Basel.
The company, which effectively transferred its headquarters from London to Basel in 2010, has made the return move as “a direct consequence” of the new law regulating the activities of security firms, a spokeswoman confirmed.
The new law presents “an insurmountable obstacle” for the sector, Aegis said in a statement issued through a public relations company.
Aegis emphasised that, although it accepts "the well-intentioned motives of the new legislation", the law is not compatible with the secrecy status that is required to work for the United States or British governments – its principal clients – or "for that matter the Swiss or any other Government, for whom we have, or have had, the privilege to serve".
The decision to leave Basel was taken at an extraordinary general meeting on April 15.
The new law, which applies to all firms providing security services outside of Switzerland, was sparked by opposition to Aegis’ arrival in Switzerland, which was seen by some commentators as potentially harmful to Swiss neutrality.
Under the law, which is not yet in force, all planned activities outside of Switzerland will have to be reported to the foreign ministry. If there were to be any indication of operational or logistical support to armed forces or security services, the ministry would be allowed to intervene.
The ban covers recruitment, training and supplying personnel in Switzerland and abroad. Activities that undermine Switzerland’s traditional neutrality and its foreign policy aims, including the respect for humanitarian law, are also outlawed.
Any direct participation in an armed conflict is also banned. A firm would for example not be allowed to manage a prison in a country known for its human rights violations. Other problematic activities include intelligence gathering or freeing hostages.
At the end of 2010 Aegis was one of about 20 firms based in Switzerland operating, or thought to be operating, in conflict regions, according to official data.
Aegis explained that its move to Switzerland was partly taken because of the country’s geographical location in the middle of Europe, for tax reasons and because of the presence of international organisations, including the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross.