First Two Of 19 Face Judgement
In what CNN is calling the biggest corporate trial in Swiss
history, 19 former top executives, board members and consultants
involved with the failed airline Swissair face charges in the
wake of its financial collapse.
The airline, once the pride of Switzerland, was grounded in
October 2001 after oil companies and airports refused to extend any
more credit when the airline couldn't pay its fuel bills and
In the trial, expected to last into March, defendants face
charges of breach of fiduciary duties for fraudulent
authorizations, false reporting of business and creditor
preference, dishonest management and personal income tax fraud
The first defendant, and former board member, Gerhard Fischer
opened the trial with protestations of his innocence saying he had
acted honorably. "I fulfilled my task with great responsibility,"
Fischer said in a statement he read out during the morning session.
"The allegations by the prosecutor's office are unfounded and
Fischer claims the general collapse of the airline industry
following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 caught him and his
co-defendants unawares. He says the airline would survive today if
not for those attacks.
Fischer and Benedict Hentsch were the first two defendants to
face judgement in the trial. They both pleaded not-guilty, made
brief opening statements and confirmed basic information such as
birthplace and residence before refusing to answer any of the 150
questions prepared by a panel of judges.
Industry observers say the airline collapsed in part because of
the debt it racked up during a rapid expansion and a strategy of
buying stakes in other airlines such as Sabena.
Former Credit Suisse analyst Christophe Chandiramani, who lost
his job after predicting a huge loss for Swissair in June 2000,
told Bloomberg, "The takeover of Sabena was the first mistake and
they didn't realize until too late how much it was costing. It was
decline in slow motion."
Prosecutors hope the trial will illuminate the extent to which
supervisory board members may be held accountable through an
examination of transactions made within the Swissair Group before
and during the airline's collapse.