Affolter prevented from leading Kuoni AGM

Müller and Affolter are at the centre of a bitter power struggle

A tense Annual General Meeting of the travel group, Kuoni, opened on Tuesday with security staff preventing the chairman, Daniel Affolter, from presiding over the gathering of shareholders.

This content was published on May 15, 2001 - 11:13

Security guards blocked Affolter as he tried to make his way to the rostrum, forcing him to take a seat in the front row of the audience. The vice-chairman, Heinz Müller, then took the lead.

It's the latest move in a bitter power struggle that erupted just over a week ago, when board members tried to oust Affolter.

The battle for control broke out when five of the eight company board members demanded his resignation, accusing him of awarding himself payments of millions of francs from the Kuoni and Hugentobler foundation, which holds 25 per cent of the company's voting rights.

The board is also filing criminal charges against Affolter for "disloyal conduct of business".

Similar charges have been levelled at Alfred Kuoni, who set up the foundation in 1957 to try to ensure the company's independence.

The board says it is concerned that the foundation, which practically controls Kuoni, had been entrusted to people who were placing their personal interests above those of the company, its staff and shareholders.

Although the row broke out too late to make it on to the agenda of Tuesday's AGM, the meeting should give an indication of shareholder sentiment towards the two camps. An extraordinary shareholders meeting in July should decide Affolter's fate.

Affolter suffered a setback on Friday when the authorities' supervising foundations in canton Zurich said the Kuoni and Hugentobler foundation had to vote in line with proposals recommended by the Kuoni board, or abstain.

This led to Affolter's resignation as head of the foundation, though he insists he will stay on as chairman of the company.

He accuses his opponents, including the group's chief executive Hans Lerch, of trying to oust him and to soften up Kuoni for an outside takeover.

In a further twist last week, the Kuoni and Hugentobler foundation itself launched proceedings against the company's vice-chairman, Heinz Müller.

Papers were lodged in Zurich accusing Müller of breaching commercial secrets and suppressing information.

Kuoni shares have come under sustained pressure since the row broke out and closed down six per cent on Monday at SFr701.

by Michael Hollingdale

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