SWITZERLAND - Swiss industrial firm Rieter has cleared Jürg Maurer, head of investments at its CHF955m (€599bn) pension fund, of any wrongdoing in the Swissfirst affair.

Last summer, it emerged that Rieter Pensionskasse, along with six other schemes, had dumped shares in Swissfirst shortly before the bank merged with a peer in September 2005.

The revelation prompted an investigation by Swiss authorities into whether the schemes were part of an insider trading scheme engineered by Swissfirst.

Maurer also came under suspicion due to his close links with former Swissfirst chief executive Thomas Matter and the fact that between 2001 and 2004, he amassed a fortune of several million Swiss francs.

However, Rieter said that a recent investigation by auditor Ernst & Young had found "no evidence of any wrongdoing" on the part of Maurer or the Pensionskasse.

"In trading Swissfirst shares, neither the Pensionskasse nor the portfolio manager violated any legal requirements or internal rules. Ernst & Young also found no indication that they received benefits from third parties," Rieter said.

Rieter added that as part the investigation, Maurer and others at its pension fund were obliged to permit Ernst & Young to scrutinise their private bank accounts.

IPE reported last week that Ernst & Young had found no evidence of wrongdoing at Ist-Investmentstiftung, a CHF8.3bn scheme that also was embroiled in the Swissfirst affair.

However, the public investigation of the seven Pensionskassen continues. So far, the investigation has produced one arrest, namely that of Roland Rümmeli, the former head of investments at Siemens Pensionskasse.

Although Rümmeli was released in October, Siemens has fired him.

Separately, Rieter said its Pensionskasse, which insures around 1,460 employees, had increased its funding ratio to more than 150%, adding that this year, the scheme would have "another good return".

For 2005, Rieter Pensionskasse had a funding ratio of 142% and a gross return of 8.7%. The latter figure is somewhat below an average of 11% for Swiss schemes.