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Swiss Life scandal claims scalp of party boss

Gerold Bührer is stepping down from the Radical presidency after just 18 months in the job

(Keystone Archive)

Gerold Bührer has stepped down as head of Switzerland's Radical party over his links to the scandal-hit Swiss Life.

The Radicals, one of the four parties in government, were said to have demanded Bührer's resignation because he is a board member of the troubled insurer.

"After considerable thought... I have decided to step down as president of the party," said Bührer.

"This decision was not caused by pressure, but rather the request of my friends that I should decide on one of the two options."

Bührer's position as party boss was seen as untenable, after Swiss Life admitted last week to setting up a secretive investment vehicle which made millions for top executives.

Bührer was not among them, and said he had little knowledge of the vehicle, known as Long Term Strategy (LTS). However, the fallout from the scandal led to calls for him to step down either as a Swiss Life board member or as party boss.

It appears the party - gearing up to fight a general election in 2003 - decided he is not the man to manage the Radicals' election campaign. Bührer is on the boards of at least seven other companies, as well as of a variety of associations.

Bührer had also called in September for a "pact" between the state and business to promote economic growth. His close ties with business have now come back to haunt him.

Rightwing

The economist from canton Schaffhausen was elected president of the Radical Party 18 months ago with the avowed aim of making up ground lost to the rightwing Swiss People's Party during various elections.

Bührer was also considered to be close to the Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, and he had been seen as a potential successor.

Their relationship suffered, though, amid Bührer's insistent calls for tax breaks for companies and his lack of enthusiasm for the government's plans to donate to charity some of the proceeds from the sale of Switzerland's gold reserves.

The turmoil surrounding Swiss Life has led to renewed criticism of fat cat bosses who enrich themselves at shareholders' expense.

Last weekend the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, added his voice in a newspaper, describing "greedy bosses" as a "disgrace".

swissinfo


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