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Cablegate: Blocher-Roschacher Roils Swiss Consensus Politics

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DE RUEHSW #0896/01 2560553
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FM AMEMBASSY BERN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4475
INFO RUCNMEU/EU INTEREST COLLECTIVE

2007-09-13 05:53:00 07BERN896 Embassy Bern UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY VZCZCXYZ0000\
RR RUEHWEB\
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DE RUEHSW #0896/01 2560553\
ZNR UUUUU ZZH\
R 130553Z SEP 07\
FM AMEMBASSY BERN\
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4475\
INFO RUCNMEU/EU INTEREST COLLECTIVE\
UNCLAS BERN 000896 \
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SIPDIS \
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SENSITIVE \
SIPDIS \
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DEPT FOR EUR/AGS AND INR/EU \
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E.O. 12958: N/A \
TAGS: PGOV SNAR SZ
SUBJECT: BLOCHER-ROSCHACHER ROILS SWISS CONSENSUS POLITICS \
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Summary \
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1. (SBU) The Blocher-Roschacher affair is for the most part about \
Federal Councilor (and Justice Minister) Blocher's role in the July \
2006 resignation of Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher. The key \
question hanging in the air is whether Blocher abused his office as \
Justice Minister to exert undue pressure on Roschacher to resign, or \
worse, was involved in a secret plot trying to oust Roschacher. \
Though this complex saga appears far from over, it thus far has \
generated one of the worst bouts of bickering and public accusations \
in modern Swiss politics. However, barring some further sensational \
development, we should not expect Blocher to resign or be removed \
from office. The most likely effect of the affair will be to \
galvanize already committed supporters in the Swiss political camps, \
rather than increase the support for one party or another. End \
summary. \
\
------------------------------- \
Background: The "Ramos Affair" \
------------------------------- \
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2. (U) In July 2006, former Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher \
announced his resignation. He previously had weathered some \
domestic criticism in 2004 for alleged mismanagement and for a \
terrorism cooperation agreement he concluded with the USG. However, \
his 2006 resignation was made amidst mounting public pressure \
following a Swiss newspaper article alleging that Roschacher had \
played an instrumental role in engaging a convicted Columbian drug \
trafficker, Jose Manuel Ramos, for an undercover operation in \
Switzerland. Ramos reportedly had spent 12 years in a U.S. prison \
on drug charges. \
\
3. (U) Information provided by Ramos purportedly prompted an \
investigation against a Swiss private banker, Oskar Holenweger, on \
suspicion of money-laundering. The investigation ultimately led to \
Holenweger's personal ruin, but to no formal indictment. Swiss \
press reports claimed that the Federal Prosecutor had placed too \
much stock in information provided by an ex-con. Only days after \
the press reports, Justice Minister Blocher and the Swiss Federal \
Criminal Court in Bellinzona, which hold joint oversight over the \
Federal Prosecutor's office, announced a special investigation of \
Roschacher's office. Roschacher announced his resignation before \
the end of this special investigation, though he ultimately was \
cleared of the allegations of mismanagement and legal wrongdoing. \
\
------------------------------- \
The "Blocher-Roschacher Affair" \
------------------------------- \
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4. (U) The Oversight Committee of Parliament's lower house (GPK-N), \
which monitors the Swiss government administration on behalf of the \
Parliament, has had an ongoing investigation of the circumstances \
leading to Roschacher's resignation. The issue had remained largely \
out of the public discussion until September 3, when left-leaning \
newspapers began reporting information apparently leaked from a \
GPK-N report on Roschacher's resignation. According to those press \
reports, Blocher allegedly plotted to oust Roschacher, overstepping \
his mandate by pressuring Roschacher to resign and by arranging a \
severance package for Roschacher to help convince him to quit absent \
any legal or administrative basis. \
\
5. (U) The storm broke on September 5 when the Federal Council \
announced it planned to engage an independent legal expert in order \
to help it assess the findings of the (yet-to-be published) GPK-N \
report on Roschacher's resignation. Under mounting pressure of the \
media reports, Blocher the same day held a press conference \
denouncing the GPK-N report as "tendentious" and the allegation of a \
plot as "nonsense." \
\
6. (U) Later on September 5, the GPK-N held a hastily arranged press \
conference to publish the findings of its report, which alleges \
serious misconduct of Blocher, including bypassing the Federal \
Council and disregarding the separation of powers in the \
"non-voluntary resignation" of Roschacher. More ominously, the \
GPK-N also announced that it was going to examine documents that \
might reveal a plot to oust Roschacher, cooked up by Holenweger and \
supposedly involving Blocher. The documents reportedly had been \
obtained by the German police and provided by the government of \
Germany to Swiss legal officials. By September 6, the media from \
left to right was pitching the imbroglio as an affair of state \
focusing almost exclusively on putative evidence of a plot. The \
actual GPK-N report got almost overlooked by the media. \
\
-------------------------- \
The SVP Comes Out Swinging \
-------------------------- \
\
7. (U) On September 6, Blocher's SVP fought back. SVP strategist \
Christoph Moergeli presented the press with what he said were the \
original documents that the GPK-N wanted to evaluate for indications \
of the alleged plot. Thus far, the GPK-N has only viewed copies \
held by a Swiss Examining Magistrate, who did not permit the GPK-N \
to make copies of the documents. Moergeli said he had obtained the \
documents directly from his "friend" Holenweger. The documents are \
a series of military-style flipcharts with names of two dozen Swiss \
politicians, journalists, and private persons, annotated with \
comments, abbreviations, and markings. Moergeli vehemently \
dismissed allegations that the documents in question represented \
plans of a secret plot against Roschacher, calling the conspiracy \
theory "politically instrumentalized bull----." He argued that the \
cryptic notes of Holenweger, a former Swiss army general staff \
officer, were simply Holenweger's effort to record the crisis \
unfolding over Roschacher following the publication of the press \
reports regarding the "Ramos Affair." \
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8. (U) In a September 11 statement released via his lawyer, \
Holenweger himself reinforced Moergli's claims, arguing that the \
documents were simply notes he wrote for his own "personal \
orientation," and that none of the persons listed were aware of the \
documents or involved in any kind of plot. He further stated that \
he had not met with Blocher since 1988, and apologized for the \
trouble the documents had caused. \
\
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"UnSwiss" Bickering \
------------------- \
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9. (SBU) Though this complex saga appears far from over, it thus far \
has generated one of the worst bouts of bickering and public \
accusations in modern Swiss politics. The SVP has presented recent \
events as proof of its claims that the left was conspiring to oust \
Blocher from the Federal Council which comes up for election in \
December. Lucrezia Meier-Schatz, the member of the GPK-N who \
insinuated a possible plot to oust Roschacher, reportedly has \
received anonymous threats and has been put under police protection. \
Some members of the (center-)left have decried Blocher's position \
on the Federal Council as untenable, though generally denying any \
plot to remove him. Federal Councilor and Interior Minister \
Couchepin (FDP) said on Swiss radio that recent events reminded him \
of fascism in Italy and, referring to his arch-enemy Blocher, that \
Switzerland had no need for a "Duce." \
\
10. (SBU) On September 10, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who \
thus far had refrained from comment, urged restraint on everybody. \
In an interview with Switzerland's largest circulation tabloid, \
Calmy-Rey \
called the current bickering among the political parties "unSwiss" \
and admonished that nobody should be blamed before all the facts are \
known and carefully evaluated. \
\
----------------------- \
A Complicated Storyline \
----------------------- \
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11. (SBU) The circumstances leading to Roschacher's resignation \
remain murky and facts are scant. However, it is an open secret \
that there was no love lost between Blocher and Roschacher, who \
repeatedly had clashed publicly prior to Roschacher's July 2006 \
resignation. It also is a fact that Blocher had warned Roschacher \
in writing of his possible dismissal. Nevertheless, Blocher would \
have had no authority to single-handedly sack Roschacher. That is \
where the conspiracy theories start, allegedly "corroborated" by the \
Holenweger charts, claiming that the press report that prompted \
Roschacher's resignation was part of a bigger plot (Comment: The \
newspaper in question -- "Weltwoche" -- firmly toes the SVP line. \
End comment) \
\
12. (SBU) Those who claim that the affair stems from a personal \
vendetta against Blocher note that Roschacher had been nominated as \
Federal Prosecutor by Blocher's predecessor as Justice Minister, \
Ruth Metzler (CVP), whom Blocher bumped from the Federal Council \
following the elections in 2003, ending 44-years of stable party \
composition of the Swiss government when the SVP demanded a second \
seat in the Cabinet. Roschacher had a long-standing personal \
relationship dating back to student days with Metzler and her \
husband, so his relations with Blocher likely were strained from the \
very beginning. Meier-Schatz, who led the investigation of \
Blocher's actions and stirred rumors of a plot, is a member of the \
Christian-Democratic party, as is Metzler, and represents a Canton \
in eastern Switzerland from which both Roschacher and Metzler hail. \
\
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Comment: Pre-Election Politics? \
-------------------------------- \
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13. (SBU) The Blocher-Roschacher affair has roiled the Swiss \
political scene whose normal hallmarks are consensus and compromise. \
And it comes at a particularly sensitive time, as the Swiss prepare \
for their October 21 parliamentary elections. General Swiss \
prosperity and challenges related to globalization appear to be \
reinforcing the normal pre-election tendency toward "niche" politics \
and polarization (more on that will be reported septel). \
\
14. (SBU) Against this backdrop, the vehemence with which the \
various parties have asserted wrong-doing by others and/or claimed \
for themselves the status of "victim" surely is driven by a desire \
to score political points. However, barring some further \
sensational development, we should not expect Blocher to resign or \
be removed from office. Give the complexity of the storyline and \
limited public appetite for political news, the most likely effect \
of the affair will be to galvanize already committed supporters in \
the Swiss political camps, rather than increase the support for one \
party or another. \
\
CARTER \

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