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Swiss accused of interfering in Indonesia corruption probe

Peter Bosshard accuses the economics ministry of interfering in an Indonesian corruption enquiry

(Keystone)

The Swiss economics ministry has been accused of trying to foil Indonesia's corruption probe into Switzerland's dealings with the former Suharto regime. The accusation was made by a Swiss NGO, the Berne Declaration.

The Berne Declaration claims the economics ministry is intent on stymieing Indonesia's efforts to investigate exporters' dealings with the former regime.

It says the officials in the department responsible for issuing export risk guarantees have been deluging the Indonesian authorities with correspondence and visits since Jakarta began investigating allegations of Suharto's corruption.

They are trying to convince the Indonesian authorities to recognise the validity of contracts signed by the former Suharto regime.

Peter Silberschmidt, who's in charge of export risk guarantees at the economics ministry, defended his department's position, saying it was pursuing its interests in a perfectly legitimate way.

He said his only concern was that contracts issued by the Suharto regime were honoured by Indonesia, and that any corruption enquiry was an internal matter.

The Berne Declaration says Indonesia was the most important recipient of export risk guarantees when Suharto stepped down in 1998. At the time, it says the country had guarantees worth SFr1.1 billion from Switzerland, mainly to cover three power stations run by the firm ABB.

The Berne Declaration points out that under Suharto, Indonesia's energy sector was notoriously corrupt. It claims ABB's participated in these practices, which included generating excess electricity, which was considerably overpriced.

In a letter to the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, the Berne Declaration says the Swiss foreign ministry has been kept completely in the dark about the campaign to try to prevent Indonesia's corruption probe.

The letter's author, Peter Bosshard, wants Switzerland to clarify the economics ministry's position as far as corrupt foreign governments are concerned. "The question is how the recently revised corruption law, which makes it an offence for Swiss companies to bribe foreign officials, applies to export risk guarantees."

Kurt Schärer of economics ministry's export risk commission said his department was not accountable for violations of the revised law, and it was up to exporters to ensure they abided by it.

The Berne Declaration is a Swiss non-governmental organisation, which works to promote better relations between rich and poor countries.

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