Five years after the collapse of Swissair, Switzerland’s biggest ever business crime trial has started. In the dock are 19 ex-managers, board members and consultants. They are accused of mismanagement of the company by things like investing in struggling Belgian airline Sabena. Former board member Gerhardt Fischer was the first to give evidence. He blamed the bankruptcy on the effects on the global aviation industry of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US.
Ex Swissair employees, like pilot Roland Born, are following the court case but with little hope of anything being achieved. He said: “I must say I don’t expect much, not necessarily because this is all happening so long afterwards but simply because the cause of Swissair’s bankruptcy, in the end, happened well before the period which this case is focused on.
Swissair went bankrupt with debts of 11.5 billion euros. The carrier received 2.6 billion euros of public money in the final months of its life and when it collapsed 5,000 jobs were lost. Swissair was succeeded by Swiss International Air Lines, but the original company’s sudden demise was a major blow to the country’s pride.
The trial will be closely followed in business circles with the rulings expected to shed light on the grey area between poor management and criminality. Zurich’s chief prosecutor said none of the accused is believed to have been motivated by personal profit. He said: “They are not actual business criminals or frauds, but people who primarily wanted to prevent the collapse of the SAir group sometimes, unfortunately, using dishonest methods.”