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Roche pension chief ‘in Swissfirst trade’ - paper

SWITZERLAND - The pension investment head for Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche personally profited from trading with shares of Swissfirst bank in September 2005, Swiss daily Blick reported today.

The revelations are the latest twist in the Swissfirst affair when erupted in the summer, when it emerged that seven Swiss pension funds, including Roche's scheme, made what appeared to be dubious trades with shares of the bank.

According to Blick, the person sold 60,000 Swissfirst shares at a price of CHF58 (€36.5) right before the bank merged with fellow bank Bellevue in September 2005. The newspaper referred to the official merely as "MF".

A Roche corporate spokesman did not deny to IPE that "MF" is Marco Frei, the company's head of global pension fund management. Calls to Frei's direct line were not returned.

Blick said MF's move meant that Roche Pensionskasse sacrificed a theoretical gain of CHF1m as Swissfirst shares jumped to CHF74.5 on news of the merger with Bellevue.  Dumping Swissfirst shares prior to the merger was the reason why the other six Pensionskassen became embroiled in the affair.

However, Blick also reported that MF sold 3,000 Swissfirst shares of their own after the merger announcement, earning CHF50,000 in the process.

Blick's revelations conflict with the outcome of an investigation conducted by authorities in Basle. Last week, the authorities cleared Roche of any wrongdoing in the Swissfirst affair, noting that they had found "no evidence that anyone personally profited from equity trades".

But Blick speculated that the Basle authorities had somehow missed MF's personal stock trade.

Roche spokesman Baschi Dürr had no further comment on the Blick report beyond pointing out the outcome of the investigation.

In a related event, Swissfirst chief executive Martin Bisang said that due to the stigma attached to the Swissfirst name, the bank was dropping it in favour of Bellevue from January 1.

Bisang took over as Swissfirst CEO in August after his predecessor Thomas Matter was forced to resign over the entire affair. Swiss authorities are still investigating Matter to determine whether he was guilty of any insider trading at the time of the Bellevue merger.

Along with Roche Pensionskasse, authorities have found no evidence of wrongdoing at two other schemes, namely the one for industrial firm Rieter and for supermarket chain Coop.

Meanwhile in Germany, the supervisory board of German financial services watchdog BaFin has absolved Jochen Sanio, BaFin's president, of any responsibility for a corruption scandal that hit the agency in 2004.

"Given the president's willingness to take necessary measures to avoid a recurrence of the past events and due to the fact that an investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of senior directors, the board believes that it is the right decision," said Thomas Mirow, a deputy finance minister who is the board's chairman.

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