Two former employees of the watch brand Tissot and a third from another Swatch Group company were paid more than CHF10 million ($10 million) in bribes between 2008 and 2013 to favour suppliers from Hong Kong, according Swiss public television, SRF.
The case has been under investigation since February 2014 by the regional prosecutor’s office of La Chaux-de-Fonds in western Switzerland. It focuses on a former order manager at Tissot, another in charge of quality, and a third defendant, quality manager of another watch brand.
The SRF report said the bribes were paid by Hong Kong suppliers to score large orders from Switch watchmakers and loosen controls on the equipment supplied. The Hong Kong Anti-Corruption Authority, which also took on the case in 2014, identified a significant number of transactions between the accounts of the various players.
The Swiss investigations target four people and will soon be closed, according to the prosecutor in charge of the case. Swatch Group, which confirmed to RTS that it filed a complaint in February 2014 against former employees, has apparently requested new documents.
The company claims to have discovered these wrongdoings concerning benefits received during purchasing operations – notably packaging – following an internal audit.
‘Not the first time’
The scale of the sums is indicative of the immense volumes of Swatch watch orders in Asia, according to Gregory Pons, editor of Business Montres & Joaillerie.
“This is not the first time that this kind of thing has happened within the Swatch Group,” he told SRF. “I expect every year Swatch Group gets rid of – not always by filing complaints – employees who are suspected of such cases.”
Pons says it is often staff in the purchasing department who are involved.
“Corruption is one of the black continents on the watchmaking planet,” he said, stressing that the watchmaking world would benefit from a clean-up.
Swatch Group includes the Longines, Tissot and Omega brands as well as the plastic watches known simpy as swatches.