Swiss association rules out governance laws

SWITZERLAND - Despite the Swissfirst scandal, Swiss pension fund association ASIP has urged the government to refrain from enacting new laws aimed at tightening regulation of  Swiss schemes, known as Pensionskassen.

Writing in Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, ASIP managing director Hanspeter Konrad claimed that any new regulation of the Pensionskassen would not only be unnecessary but wouldn't work.

To prove his point, Konrad recalled that in 1991, the government withdrew a measure aimed at preventing real estate speculation and land hoarding by Pensionskassen due to its ineffectiveness.

"Moreover, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, approved by the US Congress following the Enron and WorldCom scandals,  is regarded today as a colossal failure," he said.

He added: "Between current laws and internal control mechanisms those who do wrong can be found out and be made liable…There has to also be vigilant implementation of a requirement from January 1, 2005 regarding ethical asset management" at Swiss Pensionskassen.

Top Swiss officials argue that the government should force consolidation of Swiss Pensionskassen - which number as many as 8,000 - to better regulate them.

For example, Ulrich Grete, president of the Swiss Social Security Fund, thinks that only 1,000 Pensionskassen are needed and that the supervisory boards of the schemes should be staffed by experts and not, as he calls them, "bunglers". Jean-Pierre Roth, president of the Swiss National Bank, shares Grete's views.

Konrad's article in the NZZ comes about two weeks after investigators into the Swissfirst scandal made their first arrest - Roland Rümmeli, head of portfolio management at the Pensionskasse of German technology giant Siemens.

Rümmeli was jailed on suspicion of taking a bribe from Swissfirst in exchange for selling his fund's shareholding in the Swiss bank ahead of a merger in September 2005.

Along with Siemens Pensionskassen, six other Swiss schemes - including the one for drugs giant Roche and Publica, a federal employee scheme that one of the country biggest with CHF30bn (€19bn) in assets - are being investigated. All these pension funds were found to have dumped their shares in Swissfirst shortly before the fateful merger.

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