Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin has announced an administrative inquiry into huge government losses related to the Swiss merchant navy.
The decision comes “in view of the losses of several hundred million francs incurred by the Confederation in connection with guarantees for ocean-going vessels”, according to an economics ministry press release on Friday. It also follows parliamentary criticism of the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) linked to the losses.
The inquiry is being led by Zurich lawyer Cornel Borbély and will look particularly at the management organisation of FONES.
Switzerland underwrites the debts of several ocean-going vessels that make up its merchant navy, which was formed just after the Second World War to guarantee supplies to the landlocked country. In return, Switzerland retains the right to requisition these ships in times of crisis.
The credit guarantee system was disbanded in 2016 following allegations of fraud and complaints that costs had spiralled out of control.
Switzerland is also in the process of downsizing its merchant navy fleet. At the end of 2016, it had 47 ocean-going vessels with guaranteed loans totalling CHF794 million ($820 million). By mid-October 2019 this had been downsized to 26 vessels with guaranteed loans of CHF500 million. The fleet will be pared back to 20 vessels, with debt obligations amounting to CHF374 million.
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