The donation, revealed by the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, was made by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (DEZA), which is overseen by the Swiss foreign ministry.
The money supported a project run by the Clinton Foundation – the charitable organization set up by Hillary Clinton and her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton – aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality in Liberia.
At the time the US and Switzerland were embroiled in a dispute over banking secrecy after allegations that Swiss banks were helping US clients to dodge taxes. The US was pressuring Switzerland to force banks to hand over customer data.
Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, was involved in diplomatic negotiations on the matter with Micheline Calmy-Rey, at the time Switzerland’s foreign minister and therefore also in charge of DEZA.
Questions are now being asked as to whether the donation created a conflict of interests.
Responding to the press, a spokesperson for DEZA confirmed the donation but said it had “no hidden agenda” in making it and does not facilitate development cooperation “for political ends”, reported the Schweiz am Sonntag.
But some MPs and political commentators are unimpressed, saying the donation was questionable and politically inept.
Former Swiss diplomat Paul Widmer told the Schweiz am Sonntag it was “not wise” for a neutral country like Switzerland to donate to the foundation of a former president, since it causes problems when the government changes.
Socialist Carlo Sommaruga called the donation “a political error”.
“From now on we must check that money is being well invested,” he told Le Tribune de Genève. “We must pay more attention to what DEZA spends money on.”
But others were more circumspect.
“This donation was doubtless unwise, but I nevertheless find it hard to believe that it’s possible to ‘buy’ the US for 500,000 francs,” said another Socialist Party MP, Manuel Tornare.
Current foreign minister Didier Burkhalter will address MP's questions on the matter next week, said the paper.