Transport operators told to pay back millions in state subsidies

BLS must pay back CHF43.6 million is wrongly claimed state subsidies. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Two more Swiss state-owned transport companies have been ordered to pay back more than CHF50 million ($51 million) in wrongly claimed subsidies. The authorities are also looking into the possibility of criminal prosecutions in connection with the worsening subsidies scandal.

This content was published on February 28, 2020 - 08:38
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Government auditors have targeted Swiss Federal Railways and the regional transport operator BLS, which is mainly owned by canton Bern, for irregular subsidy payments stretching back to 2011. The crackdown follows the recent PostBus scandal that saw the company pay back CHF200 million to state coffers in 2018 after fraudulent payments were uncovered.

The BLS company, which operates the second-largest suburban railway network in Switzerland, and its subsidiary Busland must return CHF43.6 million to the state pot. Federal Railways has been ordered to refund CHF7.4 million.

The companies have been ordered to overhaul their subsidy processes and controls. They have publicly apologised for their shortcomings.   

Tariff system

The Federal Office of Transport called for a simplified accounting system for public tariff associations.

It added that was considering criminal charges in connection to sections of network that link the public network to private company premises.

An initial audit found discrepancies in this area amounting to a low single-digit million franc sum. While the issues mirror those of the Post Office-owned PostBus in some respects, the transport ministry on Friday said that the new breaches are not of a comparable scale or dimension as the earlier corruption case.

The government is undertaking an overhaul of subsidies paid to public transport companies after being roundly criticised for failing to spot the PostBus problems early enough. But it has rejected parliamentary committee calls to create a new office to specifically oversee state-owned firms.

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