The Week in Switzerland

The issue of nuclear energy was back in the headlines this week. Other stories ranged from a controversial court decision on insider trading to business cartels and stolen art.

This content was published on February 12, 2000 - 14:18

The issue of nuclear energy was back in the headlines this week. A special panel of experts presented findings intended as as a compromise between the demands of the nuclear industry and those of envirnonmentalists. The main proposal was to put nuclear waste into controlled long-term, rather than permanent storage. The system consists of a deep long-term storage site, with separate pilot tubes closer to the surface to allow monitoring of the waste even after the main site is closed.

Among the proposed sites is the Wellenberg mountain near Lake Lucerne, which the experts considered suitable for storing radioactive material. But the project is contested in the area. Voters have already rejected the idea in a referendum.

The report is part of the government's plans to revise legislation on nuclear energy. A ten-year moratorium on the building of new nuclear power plants is due to run out in September. The electorate is also likely to get the final say on proposals aimed at phasing out nuclear energy.

In other news, a former top manager of the leading insurance company, Zurich, was cleared of charges of insider trading. Markus Rohrbasser, the former finance director, was accused of taking advantage of advance knowledge of the merger of Zurich's financial services business with that of British American Tobacco. He made SFr240,000 in profits from share dealings in the run up the merger's announcement, but the court said the prosecution could not prove that the defendent had acted with premeditation. Rohrbasser himself had resigned from the company after coming under investigation. He admitted to breaching internal regulations.

The court decision raised a few eyebrows, and had some commentators suggesting the ruling could be interpreted as an encouragement to try to cut corners and bend the regulations.

Switzerland's image as a cartel paradise came under the microscope this week. The Federal Competition Commission complained it lacked clout to combat illegal trading practices. It said efforts should be stepped up to punish companies guilty of breaking anti-cartel laws and criticised the drawn out legal procedure.

Among the branches suspected of running cartels are the construction, electricity and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the book and newspaper publishing businesses.

On the international scene, the federal authorities this week decided to send back to Rwanda people whose requests for asylum have been rejected. The justice ministry said the situation in the central African state was sufficiently safe six years after the ethnic massacres. Around 160 people now face repatriation from Switzerland. The move is in line with decisions by other western countries. Nearly 500 Rwandans have sought asylum in Switzerland since the 1994 genocide, but less than a quarter of them have been granted full refugee status.

Last year, a military tribunal in Switzerland sentenced a former Rwandan mayor who had fled to Switzerland to life in prison for crimes committed during the genocide.

There was good news for the cheese industry. A ban on exports of three of the most popular varieties of cheese was lifted by Australia and New Zealand. The authorities in Canberra had banned the import of products made of unpasturised milk due to health concerns. The cheese marketing board said it would now launch a promotion drive to try to conquer a share of the market there.

Finally, seven paintings by the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, have been recovered, more than five years after they were stolen from an art gallery in Zurich. Police said the pictures were handed back to their owner through a mediator. He was rewarded by being allowed to keep two of the works. The stolen paintings included "Seated Woman" and "El Christo del Montmartre".

By Urs Geiser.

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