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Zäch wins prison reprieve

Guido Zäch has always claimed to be innocent of the charges brought against him

(Keystone)

The founder of the Swiss Paraplegics Foundation, Guido Zäch, has received a reduced 16-month suspended sentence for embezzlement at an appeal hearing.

The doctor and former parliamentarian was handed a two-year jail sentence in 2003, after being found guilty of mismanaging the foundation's funds.

Announcing its verdict in Basel on Monday, the court said that Zäch had misappropriated donations to his foundation worth SFr400,000 ($310,000). He was also found guilty of embezzling nearly SFr240,000 from the Swiss Paraplegic Centre near Lucerne.

Zäch said immediately he would appeal the court decision. The defence has always claimed there were gaps in the prosecution's arguments.

The tribunal also ruled that the doctor, who set his own salary for years, overcharged the foundation to the tune of SFr830,000. He made donors pay for the rent of his luxurious home too, at a cost of SFr140,000.

The court did not rule on charges that Zäch used the foundation's money to invest in loss-making projects and real estate investments in the early 1990s, because of the statute of limitations.

Mismanagement

Zäch, one of Switzerland's best-known doctors, was found guilty in 2003 of mismanaging SFr29.4 million of the foundation's money.

But the 70-year-old doctor, who has always maintained his innocence, was acquitted of embezzlement.

Handing down their verdict, judges at the original trial said that the doctor had acted outside his remit and could no longer distinguish between his personal and the foundation's interests, an opinion confirmed by the appeals' tribunal.

The prosecution also appealed, arguing that the first trial did not cover all 12 charges laid against Zäch. On the opening day of the appeal hearing, prosecutors demanded a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for embezzlement.

Zäch built up his foundation, based in Nottwil in central Switzerland, from scratch and was highly respected for his work with paraplegics.

Investigations into his dealings began after the vice-director of the foundation, Marc Suter, resigned in 2000.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

70-year-old doctor Guido Zäch is an expert on treating paraplegics and a staunch defender of his work.

He set up the Swiss Paraplegics Foundation in 1975 and the Swiss Paraplegics Centre in 1990. They are both based in Nottwil, canton Lucerne.

He handed over the direction of the centre on October 1 this year. But he is still in charge of the foundation.

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