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Failed property magnate goes on trial

The trial has opened of a failed property magnate, Peter Krüger, accused of fraud to the tune of SFr75 million. Although smaller in size, the case at a court in Berne is similar to that of the businessman, Werner Rey.

The trial has opened of a failed property magnate, Peter Krüger, accused of fraud to the tune of SFr75 million. Although smaller in size, the case at a court in Berne is similar to that of the businessman, Werner Rey.

Krüger is accused of fraud, fraudulent bankruptcy, mismanagement and falsifying documents. His case kept judges and magistrates on their toes for several years and raised questions about the efficiency of the Bernese justice authorities.

The 59-year old Krüger, who headed a conglomerate of companies with more than 100 employees, filed for bankruptcy in 1993 and soon afterwards fled Switzerland for the United States. He left behind debts of about SFr250 million. The justice authorities then opened a criminal investigation on suspicison that Krüger hid away assets. An international arrest warrant was issued at the end of 1994.

More than a year later, Krüger and his wife were arrested in the Cayman Islands. For several months, the Bernese authorities tried unsuccessfully to have him extradited from the Caribbean exile. In 1997, Krüger agreed to return to Switzerland voluntarily, where he was detained then released on bail.

Krüger started off as a simple office clerk and set up his own property business in the 1970s. For more than 10 years, he built up a host of companies until the business began to go wrong in the early 1990s.

Krüger has denied any wrongdoing, and has been living a luxurious villa since his release on bail. He could face a prison term of more than seven years if the court finds him guilty. A verdict is expected at the end of this month.

His case bears some striking similarities to that of the failed businessman, Werner Rey, who's also been tried for fraud in Berne. Rey also fled to the Caribbean after the collapse of his business empire, but unlike Krüger, Rey was forcibly returned to Switzerland after a long-drawn out extradition battle.

swissinfo with agencies

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