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Swissair prosecution requests jail sentences

Federal prosecutor Christian Weber has requested a range of suspended prison sentences Keystone

The prosecution in the Swissair trial has called for a six-month prison sentence for Mario Corti, the last chief executive of the now defunct national airline.

This content was published on February 19, 2007 - 21:45

It also requested a range of suspended sentences and fines for 18 other airline executives, board members and consultants.

Christian Weber, the federal prosecutor in the trial that began on January 16, announced the eagerly anticipated sentence requests on Monday, as expected not calling for the maximum sentence of seven-and-a-half years.

The 19 defendants in Switzerland's largest corporate trial have all pleaded innocent to charges that include damaging creditors, mismanagement, making false business statements and forging documents.

At the court in Bülach near Zurich the prosecution said on Monday that Corti, who was the last chief executive of parent SAirGroup, and the group's former head of finance Jacqualyn Fouse had failed to take action following the company's insolvency and therefore caused "immense damage".

They were too late in filing for protection from creditors – a step short of bankruptcy under Swiss law – which led to a loss in liquidity of SFr177 million ($144 million), the prosecution said.

Corti had released false information to the public covering up the extent of the financial problems, according to state prosecutor Ralph Ringger.

Christian Weber said that, as the main person responsible for the collapse, Corti should be sentenced to 28 months in prison, but that 22 months of that sentence should be suspended, which means it would be ignored on condition of good behaviour.

Weber also demanded a penalty of SFr1.08 million for Corti, which also would go unpaid after three years of good behaviour, but that Corti be fined SFr10,000.

Corti had nothing to say as he left the court on Monday.

"Incomprehensible"

For all of the other defendants, prosecutors requested suspended sentences of up to 18 months, penalties of up to SFr720,000 and fines of up to SFr20,000.

For previous CEO Philippe Bruggisser prosecutors proposed a sentence of 15 months in addition to a penalty of SFr400,000 and a SFr10,000 fine.

Bruggisser, who ran Swissair from 1996 and was fired early in 2001, came up with the widely blamed "hunter" strategy, which involved buying stakes in other airlines as part of an expansion policy.

The prosecution requested an eight-month suspended sentence, a SFr90,000 penalty and SFr20,000 fine for Eric Honegger, a former SAirGroup chairman, and an eight-month sentence, a SFr540,000 penalty and SFr10,000 fine for Thomas Schmidheiny, an industrialist and former board member.

Schmidheiny was the only defendant to react on Monday, describing the prosecution's request as "wrong and incomprehensible".

Public hearings conclude on March 9, when the three-judge panel will start discussing the case behind close doors. It was unclear when a verdict could be announced.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swissair planes were grounded in October 2001, after the company had been in business for 71 years.

The downturn in the aviation market after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, proved the last straw for the heavily indebted Swissair, which folded the following year.

The airline collapsed after buying stakes in numerous loss-making airlines, including Belgium's Sabena and Poland's Lot, in an attempt to form its own airline alliance.

Swissair left behind debts to the tune of SFr17 billion ($13.7 billion) and 5,000 jobs were lost.

The remains of Swissair and the regional carrier Crossair were brought together in 2002 to form the new national carrier Swiss, which was in turn taken over by Germany's Lufthansa in 2005.

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The Trial

The proceedings, which began at the Bülach district court on January 16, are due to finish on March 9.

Questioning of the accused was completed on February 5.

The trial in Bülach at a hall with a capacity of 1,500 people is open to the public.

The prosecution indictment is 100 pages. There are 4,150 files in the case.

The Zurich cantonal prosecutor has spent 40,000 working hours on the case, questioning 300 people and searching 20 houses.

A first version of the charges put forward on March 30, 2006 was rejected because it was faulty. The revised version was handed in on December 31.

The Zurich cantonal prosecution authorities are currently preparing a civil indictment in the Swissair case.

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