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Archive for Switzerland

Newsline: Swiss Embassy renovation in Washington criticised

The renovations of the chancery office building in the United States capital are too expensive, finds the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO). In a report released on Monday, the SFAO stated that it was unhappy with the scale, cost and transparency of the project. The historical building is located at 2900 Cathedral Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. According to the audit report, no substantive analysis of the building’s potential was conducted for this project. Furthermore, the change of scale from a maintenance project to a comprehensive renovation project cannot be conclusively explained, says the SFAO. There was also criticism that the new concept is much bigger than the space utilisation programme drawn up by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/audit-criticises-swiss-embassy-renovation-in-washington/45853232) Another issue raised was the steep rise in cost which had doubled in three years during the preliminary project phase. Between 2015 and 2018, the project expanded from a CHF7 million (around $7.4 million) undertaking to a CHF14 million one – the amount for which a loan is currently being requested.

Newsline: Suspect in Egyptian diplomat murder case released

Switzerland’s highest tribunal has released a man suspected of the murder of an Egyptian diplomat in Geneva in 1995, according to French-language newspaper Le Temps. The Lausanne-based Federal Supreme Court decided on Monday that the charges against the 49-year-old man are insufficient to justify the continuation of the pre-trial detention ordered 18 months ago. (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/fruitless-investigations-_suspect-in-egyptian-diplomat-murder-case-released-/45773732) The suspicions were based on traces of DNA and statements by an ex-girlfriend who had allegedly received information in confidence from the defendant’s brother. But the court said investigative efforts had not yielded the tangible results that would justify keeping the suspect in custody. On November 13, 1995, a permanent adviser of the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations was shot dead by several bullets in the basement of his building in Geneva. The police found a home-made silencer. In 2007, new analysis methods revealed the DNA profiles of four people – three men and one woman. In 2018, investigators determined that one of these profiles matched the male suspect. The remaining DNA was not identified. The 40-year-old was taken into custody and charged with murder or assassination. The Swiss attorney general later levelled the same charges against the suspect’s brother.

Newsline: Iran summons Swiss ambassador amid warnings it will destroy US warships

Iran has summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents US interests in the country, over recent Gulf tensions, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to the IRIB news agency. The ambassador was given a message to pass on to the United States that Iran will strongly defend its maritime rights in the Gulf and respond to any threats. (https://www.france24.com/en/20200423-iran-summons-swiss-ambassador-amid-warnings-it-will-destroy-us-warships) Iran warned it will destroy US warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards told state TV on Thursday, a day after US President Donald Trump warned Tehran over “harassment” of US vessels. Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, but said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement. Earlier this month, the US military said 11 Revolutionary Guards naval vessels from the Guards navy came close to US Navy and coast guard ships in the Gulf, calling the moves “dangerous and provocative”.

Newsline: How coronavirus has changed life at Swiss embassies

As many activities around the world have shut down because of coronavirus, diplomats have been working overtime to get their nationals home, often in difficult circumstances. “This global crisis is unprecedented and is therefore uncharted territory for everyone,” writes Swiss Ambassador to France Livia Leu Agosti. In the past weeks, she has been dealing almost exclusively with the coronavirus crisis, “on the one hand with its effects on our fellow citizens abroad, and on the other hand with the changes in bilateral cooperation across the border”. At the same time, the embassy’s internal procedures have had to be continually adapted, she says. Almost all embassy staff now work from home, except for her and a few other employees. She says Swiss consuls in Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg as well as Paris have “worked with their teams seven days a week to answer the hundreds of inquiries and to facilitate the return journey of Swiss citizens”. “The pandemic is having a major impact on my daily life as an ambassador, but also on the lives of all embassy staff,” writes Ambassador Guillaume Scheurer in Morocco. “It is almost like a revolution, in the sense that we have had to completely rethink our way of working and our way of communicating both internally and externally.” Swiss nationals living in Morocco have also offered accommodation for stranded compatriots, since many hotels have closed their doors. “I have already experienced several crisis situations, but never a crisis of this magnitude, of global dimension, with a completely open time horizon,” says Swiss Ambassador to India Andreas Baum. The crisis has changed the life of the embassy overnight, with the focus now is on finding stranded Swiss nationals “in a country that is not only huge but is in a total lockdown” and somehow getting them home. Except for the dedicated special flights team, embassy staff are now working from home, and all meetings take place by phone or online. Baum says this is a completely new experience for him because he usually prefers to “meet face to face to discuss things or exchange written information”. (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/covid-19-diplomacy_how-coronavirus-has-changed-life-at-swiss-embassies/45677566) Answers came from two ambassadors who job share: Pedro Zwahlen, who is responsible for Australia; and Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen, who is responsible for Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Swiss travellers in these areas are often particularly adventurous, they write. If travellers remain “blocked in the most remote areas of the world”, things can quickly become “somewhat complicated”. “In mid-March we divided the Canberra team into two shifts, working alternately in the embassy offices,” they write. “This increases the chance that not everyone will fall ill at the same time, should a colleague become infected. Those who do not work in the office work online. Apart from some chronic Internet problems, this works quite well, even if we miss the daily exchange during the coffee break.”

Newsline: Germany, France, Switzerland close North Korea missions amid coronavirus concern

Germany, France and Switzerland closed their missions in North Korea and withdrew their staff on Monday amid growing concern in the isolated country about the spread of the coronavirus, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang said. The Russian embassy said a plane belonging to North Korea’s Air Koryo airline carrying 80 foreign diplomats, businessmen and relief workers left Pyongyang for the southeastern Russian city of Vladivostok. Among them were the “full composition” of officials from Germany, France and Switzerland, all of which temporarily suspended work in Pyongyang, the embassy said. Thirteen of its own employees and their family members, 35 relief workers and an unspecified number of businessmen also left. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-northkorea/germany-france-switzerland-close-north-korea-missions-amid-coronavirus-concern-idUSKBN20W0HL) The group includes “Polish, Romanian, Mongolian, Egyptian diplomats and their families who decided to wait out the quarantine in their homeland”, the embassy said on Facebook. Britain’s ambassador to North Korea, Colin Crooks, said earlier in the day that his German and French colleagues were leaving, though he did not specify why. “Sad to say farewell this morning to colleagues from German Embassy and French Office in North Korea which are closing temporarily,” Crooks said on Twitter. “British Embassy remains open.” Germany has an embassy in North Korea. France does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea but runs an office there to foster exchanges. Spokesmen for the French and German embassies in South Korea were not immediately available for comment.

Newsline: Swiss embassy employee in Sri Lanka granted bail

A court in Sri Lanka has granted bail to a Swiss embassy staff member who had been arrested two weeks ago on charges that she stoked anti-government sentiment and fabricated evidence, local media reported. The local television channel Sirasa reported her release, according to the Associated Press. The employee, a Sri Lankan national, claimed that she had been abducted on November 25 and threatened by her captors in an alleged effort to get her to disclose “embassy-related information”. (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/diplomatic-spat—-_swiss-embassy-employee-in-sri-lanka-granted-bail/45463886) The incident took place a day after a senior Sri Lankan police officer arrived in Switzerland to apply for asylum. The Swiss government condemned the alleged attack as “unacceptable” and summoned the Sri Lankan ambassador. The Sri Lankan authorities have said they have evidence that contradicts the woman’s version of events. Prior to her arrest, a court blocked her from leaving the country. Upon her detention, Swiss diplomats appealed for her transfer to a hospital on health and humanitarian grounds. The Swiss foreign ministry also announced it would dispatch a Swiss diplomat, Jörg Frieden, to Colombo in a bid to break the diplomatic deadlock.

Newsline: Sri Lanka president says he is ‘victim’ of Swiss kidnap claim

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Thursday the alleged kidnapping of a Swiss embassy staffer which triggered a diplomatic spat between Colombo and Bern had been concocted to discredit his election victory. (https://news.yahoo.com/sri-lanka-president-says-victim-swiss-kidnap-claim-130938877.html) A Sri Lankan national working for the Swiss mission in Colombo was arrested Monday for allegedly falsely claiming she had been abducted and sexually assaulted by unidentified attackers on November 25. The alleged abduction happened a day after a Sri Lankan police inspector investigating cases involving the Rajapaksa family sought asylum in Switzerland. Gotabaya Rajapaksa — who was elected president last month — told Colombo-based foreign correspondents Thursday that he was the real “victim” of the saga. “In this case, the victim is me because immediately after my election, this story came up,” he said, giving details of the Swiss embassy staffer’s movements on the day she claimed she was held against her will. “It is very clear it is a planned thing to discredit me and the government.” Rajapaksa said he did not believe the Swiss embassy itself had any role in making the allegations, and insisted he did not want anyone to create tensions between the two countries. Switzerland on Monday criticised the embassy worker’s arrest and “lack of due process in the case”, and asked for evidence that she had faked her claims. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis also spoke to his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena about the case on Wednesday, his ministry said. Cassis informed Gunawardena that Bern had sent an experienced diplomat, Jorg Frieden, to oversee the efforts to clarify the facts and resolve the situation, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Newsline: Swiss raise alarm over ‘attack’ on Sri Lanka embassy employee

Swiss authorities have hit out at the detention of an employee of the country’s embassy in Sri Lanka, branding the development “grave and unacceptable”. A spokesman for Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that the embassy employee was “detained against her will on the street and threatened at length” in an attempt to pressure her into releasing information. “Switzerland views the incident as a very grave and unacceptable attack on one of its diplomatic missions and their employees,” the spokesman said. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/swiss-raise-alarm-attack-sri-lanka-embassy-employee-191128061621424.html) Switzerland reported the incident to Sri Lankan authorities, the spokesman added, and have called on them to launch an investigation into it. Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Switzerland was meanwhile, summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Newsline: In unusual move, Japan names Yomiuri Chairman ambassador to Switzerland

The government on Friday named Kojiro Shiraishi, chairman of the conservative media conglomerate Yomiuri Shimbun group, as its new ambassador to Switzerland. The appointment of Shiraishi, 72, is a rare case of a media figure becoming a top envoy. He fills the vacancy left by the resignation in April of Etsuro Honda, one of the key architects of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, known as Abenomics. (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/08/30/national/japan-names-yomiuri-chairman-kojiro-shiraishi-ambassador-switzerland/#.XWlZYY1RU8o) Shiraishi, a former political reporter, rose through the newspaper’s ranks to become group president in June 2011. He also served as owner of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team before becoming group chairman in June 2016. As head of the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, he sat on the government panel that helped choose Japan’s new era name, Reiwa. Japan on Friday also named ambassadors to Bangladesh, Belarus, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Zambia and its mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Newsline: Iran Summons Swiss, UAE Envoys Over U.S. Drone Incident

Iran has summoned the United Arab Emirates’ top envoy to Tehran to protest the neighboring Arab nation’s allowing the U.S. to use a base there to launch a drone that Iran says entered its airspace. The June 22 report by the official IRNA news agency said Iran issued a “strong protest” to the UAE diplomat, saying Iran does not tolerate the facilitation of foreign forces that violate its territory. The U.S. says its RQ-4A Global Hawk was shot down on June 20 over international waters, not inside Iranian airspace. (https://time.com/5612728/iran-uae-envoy-drone-incident/) On June 21, Iran summoned Swiss Ambassador Markus Leitner to hear Iran’s protest over the alleged violation. Switzerland looks after U.S. interests in Iran. Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations since 1979. Iran says the U.S. drone was a “very dangerous provocation.”