Row as Swiss pick UK banker to run watchdog

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Switzerland has named the British banker Mark Branson as the new head of its financial market regulator, it emerged yesterday.

Mr Branson will replace Patrick Raaflaub, who stepped down from his role at the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, known as Finma, in January.

His appointment has already raised eyebrows across Switzerland because he ran UBS's Japanese business between 2006-2008 when traders at the bank engaged in efforts to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Regulators found no evidence that Mr Branson was aware of the efforts to manipulate the rate but UBS agreed to pay $1.5bn (£904m) to settle with US, UK and Swiss regulators.

Mr Branson had served as Finma's temporary chief executive since Mr Raaflaub's resignation.

"While in charge of banking supervision, Mark Branson has shown that he is well capable of becoming Finma CEO," Anne Héritier Lachat, Finma's chairwoman, said.

Mr Branson had shaped a number of important projects while at Finma, she said, adding the agency's board of directors "has full confidence" in his "expertise, competence, integrity and broad experience".

The news provoked a mixed response in Switzerland with some politicians questioning Mr Branson's links to the UK.

"Had he been Austrian, there would be no issue since Austria doesn't compete with Switzerland as a financial centre," Thomas Aeschi, a member of the Swiss People's Party, said. "London does."

Christophe Darbellay, president of Switzerland's Christian Democratic People's Party, added: "There cannot be anything which questions the credibility of Finma in any way. Branson's UBS past is a problem."

Finma, along with regulators in the US, Britain and Asia, is probing possible manipulation of the $5.3trn-a-day foreign exchange market, and Britain's financial watchdog has said allegations about currency markets are as serious as those concerning Libor.

Mr Branson joined Finma in 2010 to oversee Switzerland's banking sector and was named deputy chief executive last year. He said he plans to apply for Swiss citizenship later this year.

He will be expected to continue Switzerland's tougher, hands-on approach to banking regulation forged in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.