Risk Management

Swissair Execs Acquitted of Mismanagement

The former CFO is among those cleared by a Zurich judge.
Stephen TaubJune 7, 2007

Nineteen executives and consultants have been acquitted of charges they caused the 2001 collapse of Swissair. A Zurich district court has awarded some of the managers compensation totaling $2.5 million, according to the Associated Press.

Among those acquitted was Jacqualyn Fouse, who served as chief financial officer of Swissair from 2001 to 2002 and is currently the CFO of Alcon. She faced charges of mismanagement, unfaithful business conduct, and favoring creditors before the former airline went bankrupt in October 2001. Other charges against the defendants included making false statements and forging documents, according to the AP.

The defendants had blamed their company’s demise on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the ensuing collapse in the global airline industry — similar causes cited in the eventual bankruptcy filings by several U.S. carriers.

In a January 2003 report, Ernst & Young stated that Swissair’s management and board approved accounts that contained “grave errors” and pursued a “careless” expansion strategy, according to various press reports. The Wall Street Journal also noted at the time that the company bought interests in unprofitable carriers including Belgium’s Sabena, as well as in France and Portugal, that weakened its balance sheet.

The ruling came as a surprise to legal observers and a disappointment for unions, according to press reports of Judge Andreas Fisher’s ruling on Thursday. “The prosecution was an absolute fiasco,” Daniel Vischer, a lawyer and union leader, told the AP.

Prosecutors had sought a six-month prison sentence for Mario Corti, the last chief executive of Swissair, and suspended sentences for the other 18 defendants. Most of the defendants will receive compensation payments ranging from $16,000 to $400,000, which is the amount Corti will receive, according to the AP.

4 Powerful Communication Strategies for Your Next Board Meeting