SWITZERLAND - The department for financial crime of the Zurich public prosecution office has started preliminary research into the Swiss bank UBS, a spokesman for the prosecutor has confirmed.

Just days after the head of the Ethos foundation, Dominique Biedermann, had demanded legal action against former board members at the UBS' annual general meeting, the public prosecution office is now looking into suspicions of "irregularities in business conduct". (See earlier IPE story: Ethos demands legal action over former UBS board)

Ethos' shareholder resolutions are currently being supported by around 20 pension funds worldwide, half of them in Switzerland, and among the others the Swedish AP-funds are the largest.

"I cannot confirm that these preliminary proceedings are directly related to what happened at the AGM but there is a broader context," said a spokesman for the public prosecution office.

Legal proceedings are understood to have followed a lawsuit filed by a lawyer and UBS shareholder who want to protest against bonus payments for former board members, as they argue these could go towards "plugging the hole in their pension funds". (See earlier IPE-story: UBS reports net institutional outflows )

That said, the spokesman stressed no criminal proceedings had been started against former board members as yet, as Ethos would like to see happen.

Ethos' Biedermann had called on the current board members to take legal action against their predecessors in order to "distance themselves clearly from the past".

"This is an indispensible step to regain the trust of clients and shareholders," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the Swiss financial supervisory authority Finma has rejected claims suggesting it was looking into the UBS bonus system.

"From next year, UBS, like other banks, will have to adhere to a Finma circular on management remuneration and we are currently in the process of implementing these regulations," a spokesman told IPE.

"We are absolutely not looking into the bank's bonus payments", he stressed.