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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 11:41 GMT
Trial examines Swissair collapse
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Berne

A Swiss Air plane in 2001
Swiss Air's collapse was a huge blow to Swiss pride
A painful chapter in Switzerland's recent history has been re-opened after some of the country's top business leaders went on trial in Zurich.

In dispute, their role in the collapse of Swissair just over five years ago.

For 70 years Swissair was one of the world's most successful airlines, regarded as a proud symbol of Swiss efficiency and good business practices.

When it went bankrupt in October 2001, there was shock across the country as well as grief and shame.

The trial is one of the biggest of its kind ever to take place anywhere in the world.

Five years ago, the planes that once carried the Swiss flag around the world were grounded, thousands of passengers were stranded and Swissair pilots were forced to hand over wads of cash to pay for fuel to get home.

Key questions

Now questions have to be answered.

How did a company which had a cash balance of more than $3bn (2.3bn euros) in the early 1990s go bankrupt just ten years later?

In the dock in Zurich are individuals who were once regarded as the royalty of Swiss business - 19 people, including the entire board of directors of Swissair at the time and its chief executive officers.

The charge sheet against them is 100 pages long and includes accusations of false accounting and criminal mismanagement.

Many of the charges will be hard to prove. Poor management is not actually a crime.

It is thought unlikely any of the accused will actually go to prison.

But for ordinary Swiss this trial - expected to last two months - is welcome because it means the people they believe let their country down so badly will finally be held to account.

'Unexpected worsening'

Gerhardt Fischer, a former board member, said the collapse of Swissair was due to the negative effects of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US.

"I am convinced that without those events the company would still be in a healthy state," Mr Fischer said.

"I was confronted with the unexpected worsening of the financial situation," he said.

According to the Associated Press newswire, Mr Fischer then exercised his right to remain silent.

The trial was being watched by about 100 people, AP said.

A nation in shock: Swissair crisis
28 Nov 01 |  Crossing Continents
Q&A: Swissair in crisis
02 Oct 01 |  Business
Airline collapse dents Swiss pride
02 Oct 01 |  Business
Swissair: Proud past, grim future
02 Oct 01 |  Business

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