Scandal engulfs Swiss central bank

05.01.2012 07:50

The Telegraph: Switzerland's powerful central bank has been forced to publish embarrassing details about a controversial currency trade by chairman Philipp Hildebrand's wife that netted her a Sfr75,000 (£50,000) profit, to fend off a brewing political scandal.
Kashya Hildebrand's dealings have sparked questions about Switzerland's cherished banking secrecy laws, as she appeared to profit from the decisions of the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Bank Sarasin yesterday fired the employee who broke the rules by handing Mrs Hildebrand's information to an opposition politician, while the SNB swung behind its chairman, who will make his first public statement on the affair tomorrow.
The disclosures reportedly showed that Mrs Hildebrand made a Sfr75,000 profit by transferring Sfr400,000 into US dollars in August last year, shortly before the SNB effectively pegged the currency to the euro. Two months later, after the Swiss franc had fallen in value, she converted the dollars back – making a 19pc return in just two months.
Following the revelation, the SNB investigated Mrs Hildebrand's trade and ruled it did not infringe internal rules. However, facing calls for greater transparency, the central bank was yesterday forced to release its guidelines on financial dealings for members of the governing board as well as a report on the trade by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report concluded that the trade was "delicate" but did not breach any guidelines. It also said Mr Hildebrand first learned of the deal the day after his wife completed it. He then apparently disclosed her position to the SNB board and instructed Bank Sarasin only to act on his orders in future.
Mrs Hildebrand went on Swiss television yesterday to say she "felt good" about the deal. She added: "What motivated me to buy dollars was the fact that it was at a record low and was almost ridiculously cheap. As I have worked in the financial and banking industry for over 15 years and always observe the markets, I felt at ease with this transaction."
The issue has become hugely political because the leak was made to Christoph Blocher, leader of the main opposition party who has been highly critical of Mr Hildebrand, 48. Even supportive central bank sources, though, told Reuters that the trade "leaves a bitter taste in the mouth".
The financial dealings of prominent European figures are coming under increasing scrutiny. Germany's president Christian Wulff is under pressure over a €500,000 low-interest home loan he received from the wife of a wealthy businessman in 2008.
The controversy escalated after Mr Wulff, Chancellor Angela Merkel's choice for the largely ceremonial role, unsuccessfully tried to gag the paper that printed the story with a series of clumsy threats.