The Swiss Federal Council is to close a potential legal loophole allowing murderers who are the designated beneficiaries of their victims to pocket the victim’s pension benefits.

Previously, there was no specific law banning the payment of an individual’s retirement savings to the person convicted of their murder.

Under current law, pension funds do have the ability to reduce or refuse survivor benefits in such cases. The same applies for both vested benefits and pillar 3a insurance policies.

However, the situation regarding vested benefits and pillar 3a accounts provided by a foundation – instead of an insurance company – was considered to be unclear.

Recent high-profile cases of mariticide – killing a spouse – had highlighted the need to change the law.

In one case, a man who was convicted of shooting his wife received CHF10,000 from her vested benefits account. Their son could not legally prevent this, as under pension law, a payment of benefits to the adult children is not possible if the deceased has a spouse or partner.

Another murderer was set to inherit CHF64,000 from his wife’s pillar 3a savings, but – and only after a request from the foundation and a long period of wrangling – agreed to give the money to his mother-in-law.

The proposed legal change follows an initiative by Josef Dittli, a member of the Council of States (upper chamber) representing the canton of Uri.

In 2018, Dittli used an interpellation (a request for information from the Federal Council), which the Council agreed to support.

The Federal Council published a draft proposal to amend three ordinances governing the second and third pillars in December, the consultation period ending last March.

Most changes were technical, or clarify rules governing transfers from the third to second pillar, but they also included a blanket ban on murderers receiving their victim’s pension benefits.

Infrastructure earns own category

Meanwhile, another proposal is to amend the investment regulations for pension funds. Under current law, investments in infrastructure are classified as “alternative investments”, alongside hedge funds, private equity, insurance-linked securities and commodities.

The idea is to create a separate investment category for investments in infrastructure. These investments would be limited to 10% of the pension fund’s total assets.

Direct investments in infrastructure would be limited to 1% of the pension fund’s total assets, to ensure diversification.

Simon Heim, head of Swiss Life’s employee benefits legal practice, said: “This change takes account the increasing relevance of infrastructure investments in relation to issues such as sustainability and climate.

By creating a separate investment category, investments in this area will become possible to a greater extent than before.”

Based on the results of the public consultation, the Federal Council is expected to issue the amended ordinances this autumn, with any changes unlikely to take effect before 2021.

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