BLS / Bus Eastern Switzerland: Confederation opens procedure for public transport funds

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Three operators can breathe easy

BLS and Bus Eastern Switzerland: the Confederation opens a criminal investigation into public transport subsidies

For a long time, it was unclear who would have to investigate the public transport subsidies abused by the BLS and Bus Ostschweiz. After two judgments, the federal government is now launching a criminal investigation for fraud. Meanwhile, three other public transport operators can breathe a sigh of relief.

The federal government has opened a preliminary investigation against Bus Ostschweiz and the BLS for improperly obtained public transport subsidies.

Images: HO / Hans Mathys, editing: CHM

The wrongfully collected public transport subsidy scandal is entering the next round. The Federal Office of Transport (BAV) was the first to discover the “PostBus-Bschiss”. Then the irregularities at the BLS became public knowledge. Finally, in 2020, it became clear that the Lucerne transport company had received too many subsidies for public transport from the public sector.

Justice has already dealt with the subsidy scandal at Postauto AG. In Lucerne, the cantonal prosecutor took charge of the case. And now it is clear who will initiate the criminal proceedings in the BLS and Bus Ostschweiz cases – namely the Federal Office of Transport. Because the Bernese BLS has now also been joined by an abuse case in eastern Switzerland. Other alleged cases of fraud involving public transport subsidies in Zurich, Freiburg and the Bernese Jura, on the other hand, are not being prosecuted by the federal government.

Two judgments prompt BAV to investigate

“Based on the findings so far, the BAV is carrying out preliminary investigations against the BLS and Bus Ostschweiz,” the federal government announced on Thursday. According to the Federal Office of Transport, clarification should first be made about possible criminal offenses and the group of persons. The BAV also explicitly refers to the presumption of innocence for organizations and individuals involved in the preliminary investigation.

The fact that the BAV is now opening a criminal investigation into both cases is based on two court decisions. The Federal Criminal Court ruled in December that in the BLS case it was not the public prosecutor’s office of the canton of Bern who was responsible, but the Federal Office of Transport as the granting authority. And the Federal Supreme Court ruled in April that the involvement of third parties by the Federal Office of Police in the PostBus affair was inadmissible. The BAV deduces from this that it must now conduct the criminal proceedings itself against BLS and Bus Ostschweiz.

No criminal proceedings against “Z-Pass”, TPF and Mont-Soleil

In the other three known cases of possibly illegally obtained public transport subsidies, the OFT has however refrained from carrying out criminal investigations. These are the “Z-Pass”, the Freiburger Verkehrsbetriebe (TPF) and the St. Imier – Mont-Soleil funicular. When questioned, a BAV spokesperson justified this by saying that there were insufficient indications for the opening of criminal proceedings.

In the first case, the CFF repaid a little over a year ago 8.8 million francs in subsidies. Indeed, in the “Z-Pass” tariff network, between 2012 and 2019, calculation errors were made when distributing revenues between long-distance commercial transport and subsidized regional passenger transport. SBB discovered this themselves and reported it to the BAV.

The TPF case concerned advertising revenue in regional transport of five million francs. The Friborg transport company would not have counted them in the regional transport eligible for subsidies, but in the account of the holding company and in other sectors. Thus, the TPFs received higher public transport subsidies than they were actually entitled to.

In comparison, the St. Immer valley funicular in Bern is a small case. The irregularities in this case amounted to less than one million Swiss francs.

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