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Last Swissair CEO tells trial $9 mln payment „not my idea”

Swissair’s last CEO before the airline went bankrupt in 2001, Mario Corti, defended in court yesterday the Sfr12 mln ($9,6 mln) he received when he started the job.

Corti received the money as an upfront payment in return for accepting a five-year contract in March 2001. At the time, many executives were leaving the carrier. The previous head of airline operations, Moritz Suter, „gave up his responsibility after 44 days”, Corti said. Almost all of the previous board opted not to renew their terms on March 15. Corti said he accepted the role of CEO out of a sense of duty. When asked about the money, he told the court that it had not been his idea and that it was a way to provide security for his family. „In those stormy days there wasn’t time for a bank guarantee” or for the money to be paid in another way, Corti, the eighth of 19 defendants in the trial, told the court in Buelach, near Zurich.

The trial is the first time that members of a board of directors have faced criminal charges for corporate failure in Switzerland. Swissair collapsed on October 2 2001, after running out of cash. It was replaced by Swiss International Air Lines. Corti pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. He declined to answer questions related to payments to Belgium’s Sabena airline because of a pending lawsuit related to these payments. After Swissair’s bankruptcy, Corti worked with the liquidator, Karl Wuethrich, until June 2003. Since then, he has not worked. „With the whole world aware that I was under criminal investigation, I couldn’t find a similar position,” Corti said. Corti, who holds an MBA from Harvard and wrote a doctoral thesis on European agricultural policy, has held posts with the Swiss National Bank, Swiss economic affairs department and Nestlé. The trial is due to last until March 9. (