SWITZERLAND – The Swiss government is to investigate the reasons for the severe underfunding of the CHF2.15bn (€1.4bn) Swiss transportation sector pension fund Ascoop in 2001.

The government has stated that this is a pre-condition for giving the fund the same kind of support in reconstructing its affairs it has provided for other pensions funds, notably the Swiss Federal Railway Pension Fund (SBB).

This agreement came into force following its approval of a proposal or ‘postulate’ submitted to parliament by Nationalrat member Kurt Fluri.

“Kurt Fluri wants Ascoop to get the same help from the Confederation as the Swiss Federal Railway pension fund,” said Ascoop spokesperson Juerg Sigerist.

Ascoop has been at the centre of numerous allegations, centring on the business connections of former chief executive Jean-Claude Dueby and former president Peter Joss.

As a result of investments in technology stocks, Ascoop suffered disastrous losses on the equities markets in 2000 and 2001, and its coverage ratio had fallen to 77% by 2002.

In March 2003 contributions were increased from 15% to 20% of salary, and pensions were reduced from 67.5% to 63% of final salary.

In its response to Fluri’s measure, the government said it had kept the case of Ascoop apart from its programme of reform because other pension funds, such as the Swiss Post Office and the SBB faced greater problems.

However, it said now was prepared to take the necessary steps. The first task was to “examine more closely the causes which led to the present difficult situation of the pension fund”.

The findings of these investigations would not prejudice any future government assistance, it added, since the responsibility for the pension fund rests mainly with the transportation companies.

Fluri – president of the small Swiss German town of Solothurn and board member of various transport companies - submitted his proposal to the government on June 2. “Ascoop itself didn’t officially express any demand,” said fund spokesman Sigerist.

“Ascoop has not been involved so far in the processes started by Kurt Fluri’s postulate.”

Ascoop agreed on its own restructuring plan on January 26 this year. Implementation will begin on 1 January 2006.

“The restructuring plan of Ascoop has been 100% established without any help from the Confederation,” said Sigerist.

But he added. “The help of the Swiss government would accelerate the restructuring process.

Fluri could not be reached for comment.