Sabena's woes dogged Swiss business week

Sabena joined in with the Belgian government to launch a legal action against Swissair Keystone

The business week was dominated by the spectre of legal action against the Swissair Group. Both the Belgian government and the loss-making Belgian airline Sabena accused the Zurich-based group of trying to wriggle out of a contract it signed to increase its stake in Sabena.

This content was published on July 6, 2001 - 16:17

After an ever-increasing war of words, Sabena finally decided on Thursday to launch its own legal action against the Swissair Group.

The aviation conglomerate, itself in financial difficulties, has made it clear it does not want to boost its minority stake of 49.5 per cent in Sabena to 85 per cent, as stipulated under the terms of the contract.

The Sabena move came after the Belgian government, which owns just over 50 per cent of the carrier, announced on Tuesday that it would sue the Swissair Group for the same reason.

Swissair now faces demands for about SFr760 million (€500 million) from Sabena, plus an existing demand for SFr804 million (€529 million) already made by the Belgian government.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Swissair Group said it was "disappointed that the Belgian government has chosen to focus on litigation and walk away from the negotiating table".

In another development, the Sulzer Medica company, based in Winterthur, revamped its entire orthopaedics division in the midst of a scandal over the recall of faulty hip and knee implants.

Announcing sweeping changes on Thursday, Medica said the head of the joint and fracture care unit, Gary Sabins, would be leaving the company and that the unit would be split in two.

The move comes in the wake of Medica's recall of faulty hip and knee joints, which have exposed the firm to a string of lawsuits in the US.

Around 2,100 patients have already undergone revision surgery to replace the faulty hip joints, which failed to bond properly because they were contaminated with traces of lubricant.

The company revealed on Wednesday that a further 100 patients had also received remedial surgery for faulty knee joints.

The revamp means that Medica will divide the joint and fracture care unit so that a Swiss-based staff runs the businesses in Europe, Asia and Latin America, while a Texas-based business oversees operations in the US.

In other developments over the past week, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche finalised another agreement with the Icelandic company, deCODE genetics. The two companies intend to develop and market DNA-based diagnostics for common diseases.

It was only last February when deCODE was awarded its license to create an Icelandic Health Sector Database and operate it commercially for twelve years. ·

The deal struck with the Icelandic government is unique, allowing deCODE access to the genetic records of the whole population of Iceland.

On the economics front, Switzerland's unemployment rate fell again in June to 1.6 per cent, down from 1.7 per cent in May. The figures released on Friday from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Bern mean that the jobless rate is at its lowest level for nearly ten years.

However, economic analysts say the figures, which are not seasonally adjusted, are not a true reflection of the labour market and warned that the underlying trend was for an increase in unemployment.

by Tom O'Brien

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