UBS names former Swiss finance minister as new chairman

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The Independent Online

Just days after naming a former head of arch-rival Credit Suisse as chief executive, the Swiss bank UBS yesterday announced plans to name a former Swiss finance minister as chairman as it seeks to put its recent troubles behind it and present investors and regulators with fresh faces.

Kaspar Villiger will replace Peter Kurer as chairman of one of Europe's biggest victims of the financial meltdown, completing a top management clearout designed to set the beleaguered bank back on its feet. Investors interpreted the move as a sign that the bank could move to resolve its tax spat with the United States and restore its reputation as the top banker to the world's wealthy.

Mr Kurer had held the post of chairman for less than a year, during which time UBS shares lost more than two-thirds of their value, the bank required a Swiss state bailout and got caught at the centre of a US tax investigation that threatens Swiss banking secrecy.

Mr Villiger reportedly looked relaxed and upbeat at a press conference in Zurich yesterday, in contrast to the downbeat Mr Kurer sitting alongside. He told those present that his political experience could help in UBS's tax row with the United States.

As Finance Minister, Mr Villiger was a resolute defender of bank secrecy, now an issue that is back on the table after UBS agreed to pay a $780m (£553m) fine and disclose the identity of about 300 of its US clients to avoid criminal charges in North America.

US tax authorities are, however, still pursuing a civil lawsuit against UBS, to access the data of another 52,000 Americans it says are hiding about $14.8bn in assets in Swiss bank accounts. The suit could undermine the vaunted secrecy of Swiss banks.

"Mr Villiger has a good background, he has been involved in legislation against money laundering and he has international political connections," said Teresa Nielsen, a banks analyst at Vontobel. "This will really bring some confidence back to UBS and distance the bank from the ongoing tax investigation."

UBS's troubles forced it to take a Sfr6bn (£3.6bn) cash injection from the Swiss government in October. The bank announced last week that it would cut another 2,000 investment banking jobs, taking its workforce to 75,000 from a peak of 85,000.