Swatch’s Hayek Blocked Parts for U.S. Weapons, Says Swiss Press

Swatch Group chairman Nicolas Hayek said in August that last year, prior to the war in Iraq, he refused to let the company provide essential quartz components for U.S. weapons used in the war, according to Aug. 17 Swiss press reports. His comments confirm statements by U.S. government officials published in summer 2003.

The U.S. government exerted “massive pressure” on the Swiss government to get the contracted items, Hayek told Swiss media, but he said he stood by his refusal. “We are a neutral country and remain a neutral country,” he was quoted in the Swiss news wire reports and the Basler Zeitung, Basel, Switzerland.

Hayek spoke to reporters in Biel, Switzerland, a center of Swiss watchmaking and headquarters of the Swatch Group. He was inducted as an honorary citizen of the city for his role in the revitalization and restructuring of the Swiss watch industry since the 1980s and for the influential part played by Swatch Watch.

Hayek’s comments about the weapons supported statements in Congress and the U.S. press a year ago that Swatch Group, one of the world’s largest watchmakers, and its Micro Crystal division refused to provide key components for bomb guidance equipment used by U.S. forces in the Iraq war. That refusal forced the U.S. manufacturer of the weapons to buy the parts from another supplier at nearly twice the cost, said published reports.

U.S. government officials said in press reports at the time that the delay had only been a few days, didn’t affect use of the weapons during the war, and that shipments of the crystals resumed after the Bush administration put pressure on the Swiss government.

At the time, the Swiss company’s refusal to provide the critical components showed the need for “buy American” laws, claimed Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The White House, however, opposed such provisions.