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Major fraud trial opens in Switzerland

Businessman Jürg Stäubli faces charges of fraud and mismanagement Keystone

One of Switzerland’s biggest fraud trials opened in Nyon near Geneva on Monday.

This content was published on February 27, 2004 - 19:07

Jürg Stäubli, a Geneva businessman who ran up debts of SFr250 million ($200 million), is accused of fraud and mismanagement.

The case has finally come to court after six years of investigation, and the hearing is expected to last two months.

The row of files dealing with the preliminary investigation stretches for 100 metres and even the case details, submitted to the court, are 76 pages long.

“It’s the equivalent of 20 to 30 normal trials,” said canton Vaud’s public prosecutor Jean-Marc Schwenter, who will conduct the prosecution jointly with one of his deputies.

It is a sign of the trial’s size and complexity that, for the first time in canton Vaud’s history, two prosecutors are handling the case together.

Golden boy

Around 100 witnesses are expected in court including auditors from the former United States accountancy firm, Arthur Andersen, which was brought to its knees in 2002 by the Enron scandal.

Pierre Arnold, former boss of Switzerland’s biggest retail chain, Migros, and a former director of several Stäubli companies is one of the witnesses.

Another is Marc Fues, former managing director of the Geneva Cantonal Bank.

Ties between the Genevan bank and Stäubli, a property developer and one-time golden boy of the Swiss business world, are at the centre of the trial.

“Geneva Cantonal Bank, which is owed SFr150 million, is Jürg Stäubli’s principal creditor," said Charles Poncet, one of the lawyers representing the bank.

Bankruptcy

Relations between the two date back to the end of the 1980s. In 1989 the bank loaned Stäubli SFr40 million to raise his stake in JS Holding. Other loans followed.

By 1991, when the housing market collapsed, Stäubli became one of the bank’s major debtors.

At the end of 1996, the legal authorities in canton Vaud charged him in connection with the bankruptcies of two of his other companies, Bühlmann and Hämmerli, and he spent 80 days in custody.

After his release, he reached an agreement with the bank. Stäubli handed over several of his companies in exchange a cancellation of SFr80 million worth of debt.

Stäubli said the companies were the “jewels in the crown” but in fact they have proved to be less than healthy.

As a result, the bank is taking Stäubli to court.

False accounting

According to the prosecution, Stäubli ran up debts of SFr250 million by false accounting and creating fictitious invoices between his different companies.

“It’s difficult to be precise about the exact sum because Jürg Staübli dug one hole to fill another,” said the public prosecutor.

The accused rejects all the charges.

“Nothing was done without the endorsement of the board of directors and the auditors," said Jean-Christophe Diserens, a member of Stäubli’s defence team.

“Jürg Stäubli is surprised that he’s the only one to appear in court when he wasn’t the only one to manage the companies. The board of directors weren’t figureheads.”

A key issue for the prosecution will be to determine to what extent Stäubli alone can be held responsible. If he is found guilty, he could face up to six years in prison.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

If convicted Stäubli faces up to six years in prison.
Police have been investigating Stäubli's activities for six years.
The hearing is expected to last two months.

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