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Sweden has 'secret plan' to tip Swiss Gripen vote

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Sweden has 'secret plan' to tip Swiss Gripen vote
File photo: Anders Zeilon/Saab AB
08:38 CET+01:00
Sweden developed a secret action plan to influence a referendum in Switzerland on the purchase of 22 new Jas Gripen fighter jets after Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer asked the Swedes for help, according to media reports from Stockholm.

Swedish military officials, high ranking civil servants in the government, and seven ministers were aware of the plan, public radio network Sveriges Radio reported.

The broadcaster reported that the Swedes acted after Maurer asked them for help in winning a May 18th referendum on the country's controversial multi-billion-franc purchase of Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets.

Outreach efforts are meant to reach all Swiss voters, with Maurer requesting Gripen demonstration flights every six weeks, include a showing at World Cup skiing races planned in March.

But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Trade Minister Ewa Björling claimed they were unaware of any such plan.

Citing classified documents, Sveriges Radio claims that both Bildt and Björling, as well as Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, received a letter from the Swedish ambassador in Switzerland, Per Thöresson, describing the plan.

Among other things, the letter details how the embassy "is arranging interviews and pitching positive articles about Sweden" to the Swiss press.

However, Thöresson describes the actions as "regular embassy work".

"It's not a list to influence opinion — it's a list of events we have planned," he told SR.

In a December 17th letter to colleagues in Stockholm, Thöresson wrote, "Now it's 'only' about winning the referendum," according to Sveriges Radio.

A month earlier he wrote, "Considering how uncertain the outcome of the referendum is, our contribution can very well be what tips the scales."

In 2011, the Swiss government approved the 3.13-billion-franc ($3.47-billion) deal.

But opponents forced a referendum on the Gripen purchase after submitting more than 65,000 valid signatures expressing their disapproval.

Polls show a majority of voters oppose the deal, which cannot be blocked as such.

But under Switzerland's rules, opponents can contest the law on funding the purchase through an annual 300 million francs from the military's budget over ten years.

Sweden's ambassador emphasized his letter should be interpreted "exactly as it's written".

"Everything points to this being a very close referendum," he told Sveriges Radio.. 

"It's not at all strange then that we implement our plan as planned." 

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