South Africa: Federal Council removes access restriction for files in archives
BERN, Switzerland, June 20, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- During its meeting today, the Federal Council removed the restriction on access to files associated with capital and other export transactions with South Africa during the apartheid era. In 2003, the Federal Council used provisional archive regulations to restrict access to such files in the federal archives in order to prevent significant Swiss companies that were involved in apartheid class actions in the United States from being in a worse position procedurally than foreign companies.
The Federal Council decree is based on extensive clarifications conducted by an interdepartmental working group under the leadership of the Federal Department of Finance and with representatives of the Swiss National Bank. These clarifications regarding pending class actions in the United States showed that the risks for Swiss companies have declined considerably. The Federal Council had decided to maintain the restriction on access to the archives at least until the ruling of the court of first instance had been handed down. In December 2013, the competent court in New York dismissed the class actions brought against the last two foreign companies. Consequently, it is quite unlikely that Swiss companies will be involved in these class actions again.
In view of this changed risk situation, the Federal Council considers it justifiable to abolish the archive regulations of 16 April 2003. The restriction on access to documents in the federal archives on capital and other export transactions with South Africa during the apartheid era which mention Swiss companies by name will thus be eliminated. As a result, files on relations between Switzerland and South Africa will be subject to the usual provisions of the Archiving Act in the same way as files on relations between Switzerland and all other countries.