Controversial rightwing politician Christoph Blocher has been at the centre of a media storm this week after his involvement in the ownership of a Basel daily came to light.
As the Tages-Anzeiger pointed out in an editorial on Tuesday: “With the Blochers, Switzerland now has an oligarchy family: complete with a castle, companies, factories and newspapers”.
Blocher had always denied any financial involvement “directly or indirectly” in the 2010 purchase of the Basler Zeitung (BaZ) newspaper. This week it was revealed that it was his daughter, Rahel, who had signed the papers.
At the end of November 2010 Moritz Suter, founder of the now defunct Crossair airline, bought the media company holding ownership of the title.
Since then the figurehead of the Swiss right, 71-year-old Blocher, had continually denied that he was financially involved in the purchase. The former justice minister also said he did not know who had loaned Suter the funds.
The German-speaking press ended up uncovering the truth a few days ago: the loan contracts, including clauses on the purchase of the newspaper shares and a ban on selling to third parties, had been signed by 35-year-old Rahel Blocher.
By Monday, the game was up for Suter, who announced his resignation and the transfer of his newspaper shares (100 per cent) to Rahel Blocher. On Wednesday afternoon the Ticino financier Tito Tettamanti took over the group, renamed Medienvielfalt Holding.
At no point did Rahel Blocher appear in public to explain herself, nor did she issue any written statement. There was the same deafening silence from her father.
The whole affair casts new light on a family which has a rare concentration of economic and political power in Switzerland.
The Blochers, owners of the Ems-Chemie group, whose largest property is Rhäzüns castle in eastern Switzerland, already had a media outlet through the Weltwoche weekly magazine, albeit unofficially. The purchase by a close associate of Christoph Blocher, Roger Köppel, remains shrouded in mystery.
Swiss public radio journalist Fredy Gsteiger, sees Blocher’s power base as something new and not Swiss in character. The title of his 2002 unauthorised biography was “Christoph Blocher, an unSwiss phenomenon”.
“Switzerland has already had influential families over several generations. But the case of the Blocher family, combining political, economic and media power, is unique,” he asserted.
Sweets for Miriam Blocher
Now that the youngest of the Blocher siblings, Rahel, has come to public notice, all four children of Christoph and Silvia Blocher are running various companies. The only one who has never worked directly with her father is 36-year-old Miriam, who bought the Basel-based confectionery company Läckerli-Huus in 2006.
After becoming a government minister at the end of 2003, Christoph Blocher transferred his shares in Ems-Chemie to his four children. The eldest, economist Magdalena Martullo-Blocher (41), was already head of the group. Markus (40), who holds a chemistry doctorate, heads up the former subsidiary Dottikon.
Markus Blocher sold his shares in Ems-Chemie. Finally Rahel is the only member of the board of Robinvest, headed by her father. Rahel and Magdalena also control the holding company Ernesta, which in turn controls 56 per cent of Ems-Chemie.
“The four Blocher children are brilliant, but it is obviously not easy to grow up in the shadow of such a public figure,” said a family acquaintance and politician who wished to remain anonymous. “Given the success of their father, they are almost condemned to fail.”
“Christoph Blocher [one of ten children] embodies a strong patriarchal tradition,” Gsteiger explains.
“But his father, a pastor, was even more patriarchal than him, harder and certainly more difficult to live with. Christophe Blocher’s wife Silvia, who is seen as sometimes being more rightwing than her husband, reinforces that patriarchal dimension.”
The unauthorised biographer puts the Basel developments in the perspective of a much broader offensive. “It’s clear that Blocher wants to play an even greater role in the media, down the road.”
Since then Rahel Blocher has resold her shares but her father remains the guarantor for any potential losses of the new group created by Tettamanti, “in an unlimited way”, according to the Ticino financier.
Christoph Blocher was born in October 1940 in Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland.
He made his fortune in the chemical industry with the Ems-Chemie company.
As a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party – the strongest at October's parliamentary elections with 26.6% of the vote – he has campaigned against Swiss membership of the European Union and for tighter immigration controls.
He represented the canton of Zurich in the Swiss House of Representatives from 1980-2003.
With his election to the cabinet in 2003, Blocher won a second seat for his party at the expense of the centre-right Christian Democrats.
In 2007, Blocher became only the fourth cabinet minister in Swiss history to fail to win re-election. In 2011, he failed to win election to the Senate.end of infobox
(Adapted from French by Clare O'Dea), swissinfo.ch