JERUSALEM (Sep. 28)
Israeli officials had no comment today over charges that an engineer employed by one of Switzerland’s largest manufacturing firms sold Israel secret plans for an improved version of the French Mirage jet fighter plane. The charges were made in Berne on Friday by Federal Attorney Hans Walder against 43-year-old Alfred Frauenknecht, a technical department head at the Sulzer Engineering Co. in Winterthur. Sulzer manufactures jet engines of the Mirage III “S” planes under a license from the French firm of Marcel Dassault.
According to Mr. Walder, Mr. Frauenknecht admitted after his arrest that he sold 20 crates full of secret plans, records and tooling instructions to Israel for $200,000. The alleged transfer of the plans began in the fall of 1968, well after former President Charles de Gaulle imposed an embargo on 50 Mirage V jets that Israel purchased in France. The crates were reportedly passed to Israeli agents in West Germany through an unidentified relative of Mr. Frauenknecht who was not an employee of Sulzer. Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have refused to comment on the alleged affair which Mr. Walder described as “the biggest espionage affair in Switzerland since World War II.”
Swiss Government officials said one of Frauenknecht’s responsibilities was to destroy plans after they were microfilmed. They claimed that instead, he burned waste paper and concealed the original blueprints, models and some engine parts in crates which were smuggled across the Rhine into West Germany by barge during the night. Official sources in Berne said the engineer claimed he was motivated by sympathy for Israel.
A spokesman at the Sulzer works said he earned a “comfortable” salary but did not disclose the sum. The relative who allegedly helped Mr. Frauenknecht was also arrested. The latter was said to have made his first contact with Israeli agents in the spring of 1968.
According to reports from Geneva, Mr. Frauenknecht will be charged with betraying military secrets. He is said to have given Israel detailed plans for the type of machines needed to produce the Mirage III “S” engine parts. Swiss authorities were expected to take a very hard line in the case because of embarrassment. The pro-Arab lobby in Switzerland has already begun to exploit the alleged crime, but Swiss newspapers so far have reported the facts without comment.
Switzerland, a neutral country in both world wars, has often been described as a hotbed of international espionage and the Swiss generally take a cool, sophisticated view of such alleged affairs. Switzerland is the headquarters of several major international Jewish organizations and reportedly makes a handsome annual profit out of financial dealings with Israel and Jewish institutions.
The French-built Mirage IV has been up to now the major operational aircraft of the Israeli Air Force. The embargoed Mirage V for which Israel paid $200 million is an improved version built to Israeli specifications. It is expected that their place will be taken by the U.S.-built F-4 Phantom jets which are now being delivered. In addition, since the French embargo. Israel has opened its own jet engine factory near Jerusalem in partnership with the French-owned Turbomeca company of Paris. Israel also purchased an American jet engine company which is being relocated near Lydda Airport. Both factories reportedly produce only civilian aircraft engines.