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Swiss investment guru attacks Roche board

Martin Ebner accused Roche's board of misleading shareholders Keystone

The Swiss financier, Martin Ebner, has accused the board of directors of the Roche healthcare group of seriously misleading shareholders about the real state of the company.

This content was published on April 3, 2001 - 15:03

Ebner, whose BZ Group is a major Roche shareholder, vented his displeasure at the annual shareholders' meeting in Basel on Tuesday. He took the largely symbolic step of refusing to ratify the board's report.

Roche's founding families, who control a majority of the voting rights while holding less than 10 per cent of the equity by market capitalisation, ensured the board would get formal backing at the meeting.

Ebner's latest move is part of his long-running dispute with Roche's founding families. Insulted by Ebner's public criticism of their dominant role in the company, the families blocked his bid last year to acquire a seat on the Roche board.

Ebner controls 16 per cent of the group's voting rights and believes the Roche board is not active enough in pushing the shareholder value campaign which he champions.

Ebner said the unusual capital structure that let the Hoffman and Oeri families control the company violated principles of good corporate governance.

He also accused the board of failing to supervise the company properly, citing a vitamin price-fixing scandal in the United States which cost the group billions of dollars to settle.

Ebner also pointed out that the annual report for 2000 suggested that the company was doing well when shares had in fact fallen amid investor concern about weak drug sales.

"We think this deception is misleading," Ebner said. "Roche stands before a major challenge. The company must be revamped from head to toe."

Roche officials maintained their stance on the group's outlook, forecasting a pick-up in drug sales in the second half of 2001.

The shareholders' meeting approved the annual accounts for 2000 and voted to pay a dividend of SFr115 ($66.47) per share. It also approved a split of both shares and non-voting equity securities in a ratio of 100 for one.

The meeting also appointed Franz Humer to succeed Fritz Gerber as chairman of the board. Gerber has been named honorary chairman and will continue to serve on the board.

swissinfo with agencies

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