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Swiss Life bosses plan damage limitation

CEO Chlapowski is under pressure to resign

(Keystone)

The troubled insurer Swiss Life has confirmed that an exceptional board meeting was held on Tuesday to discuss the scandal surrounding a secretive investment vehicle for top managers.

Media reports say not all board members were told about the vehicle, which made millions for a select few top bosses.

Board of directors chairman, Andres Leuenberger, said that the meeting was going ahead on Tuesday evening.

But he said that he could not confirm whether any resignations were on the agenda and added that the media would be briefed on Wednesday.

There has been speculation that CEO, Roland Chlapowski, might announce his resignation at the meeting, according to the French-language daily "Le Temps".

Switzerland's largest life insurer revealed last week that six top managers - including Chlapowski - made a combined profit of SFr7.7 million ($5.24 million) by investing their own money in Long Term Strategy AG (LTS), a three-year-old company with close ties to the insurer.

The existence of LTS was only revealed last week and, according to the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" newspaper, it had been kept a secret not only from regulators and shareholders, but also from some other members of the board.

Resign

The media and politicians have called on those involved to resign to salvage the company's image.

Last weekend the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, added his voice to the criticism of top managers who enrich themselves at shareholders' expense, in a newspaper interview with the "Sonntags Blick".

Although he did not mention anyone by name, Couchepin's comments - describing "greedy bosses" as a "disgrace" - appeared shortly after Swiss Life admitted its top managers had made fat profits out of LTS.

Meanwhile, the Swiss Radical Party said it would decide by the end of the week what action to take over its president, Gerold Bührer, a Swiss Life board member.

This comes on top of a probe already announced by the Federal Office of Private Insurance, which is also investigating two recent accounting errors at Swiss Life, which wiped more than SFr450 million off the insurer's bottom line.

Above board

Chlapowski said LTS's activities were above board and that there were no conflicts of interest. He also denied the business had been a licence to print money for the firm's management.

LTS's activities were terminated after Swiss Life's chairman of the board, Andres Leuenberger, ordered its dissolution earlier this year.

Leuenberger said he had known about LTS since 2000 but had not invested in the company. He explained that he had only acted after the insurer's own financial problems became apparent.

Chlapowski and Leuenberger have been summoned to Bern to give further explanations about LTS to the Federal Office of Private Insurance.

Meanwhile, managers are currently attempting to revive the insurer's fortunes, which have been hit hard by the company's heavy exposure to declining stock markets.

Shareholders approved a SFr1.2 billion ($810 million) capital increase last month, and the company is preparing to shed 700 jobs, including 500 in Switzerland.

Investors are expected to fund the capital increase since refusing to do so would further undermine the share price, which has tumbled by more than 80 per cent this year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The board of troubled insurer Swiss Life is reportedly to hold an exceptional meeting to discuss its secretive investment vehicle for top managers, LTS.
Media reports say not all board members knew about the existence of LTS, which made millions for six top managers.
LTS is being investigated by Zurich district prosecutors and the Federal Office of Private Insurers.

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