SWITZERLAND - All seven defendants in the trial around the collapse of the Vera and Pevos Pensionskassen in Switzerland in 1996 have been acquitted by a regional court and officials say it now may be too late to take the case further.

The pension funds Vera and Pevos were set up by the late building tycoon Albert Heer but collapsed during the Swiss 1990s property crisis, leaving a CHF200m (€123.5m) hole which the canton of Solothurn had to pay CHF73m to avoid financial damage to its 4,000 members. (See earlier IPE story: Legal battle over Vera/Pevos fund collapse to continue)

Seven of the individuals involved at the time were prosecuted in this case but in the verdict passed yesterday the judge said the evidence against the accused managers and auditors of the schemes was insufficient for a successful prosecution.

Furthermore, the judge said the set-up of the Vera and Pevos schemes was legal and stated the accused "had not committed any criminal offence", the canton's public prosecutor Matthias Welter confirmed to IPE.

The public prosecution office brought charges of embezzlement in 2004 against six individuals - three ex-managers, a former supervisor and two employees at Swiss auditor BDO Visura  - but the court had dismissed that trial as "insignificant".

Officials were unwilling to reveal who the seventh individual was in this case.

Only after a verdict by the high court declaring the case should go ahead was the regional court then obliged to hold a trial and pass a verdict.

The prosecution office will now "consider whether or not to take the trial further" to the next level of jurisdiction following these acquittals, Welter explained.

One problem prosecution officials now face is time lapse as most of the offences allegedly committed prior to the pension funds collapse will be time-barred by the end of this year.

"The court has not commented on this issue when it read out the verdict so we have to wait and see whether the written opinion of the court contains anything on the question of lapse of time," Welter pointed out.

The written verdict could be another two to three months before it is available to the prosecution office.

Welter noted he will keep the option to appeal the verdict open but wait for the written verdict before making a final decision.

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