Doctor stands trial for squandering charity millions

Guido Zäch in front of the courthouse in Basel Keystone

The trial of one of Switzerland's best-known doctors and president of the Swiss Paraplegics Foundation has begun in Basel.

This content was published on June 23, 2003 - 13:38

Guido Zäch, who is also an army colonel and politician, is charged with embezzlement and mismanaging up to SFr61.9 million ($47 million) of the foundation's funds.

Before the trial commenced, Zäch appeared outside the court and once again protested his innocence to reporters.

The Christian Democrat parliamentarian was greeted by paraplegics and their families who expressed their support for the doctor.

Prosecutors in Basel claim that Zäch used the money to invest in a number of loss-making projects and properties.

The 68-year-old doctor is alleged to have used the foundation's funds to purchase a house and finance investments, ranging from residential properties to hotels and several construction projects.

Millions lost

The alleged investments were made between 1990 and 1999, and led to the foundation losing millions.

Zäch is also said to have bought a house for the foundation for SFr2 million and personally profited from the deal.

After spending SFr2.3 million of the foundation's money on renovations, his family moved into the property in 1988 and remained there until 2000.

He then bought it off the foundation for SFr1.8 million and later sold it to his brother.

Zäch is also accused of drawing an extra SFr1.5 million in salary payments during the 1990s.

Party support

Zäch - who has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1999 - has received the support of his party.

Despite the allegations, he was nominated earlier this year by the Christian Democrats to stand in October's general election.

Investigations into Zäch's investments began three years ago after the resignation of the foundation's vice-president, Marc Suter.

Zäch, who denies the allegations, was formally charged in August last year.

A specialist in internal medicine, he is widely respected for his pioneering work in improving the lives of paraplegics.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.


In brief

Guido Zäch is accused of losing the Swiss Paraplegics Foundation more than SFr60 million.

He also faces charges of embezzling more than SFr500,000 from the foundation and receiving more pay than agreed in his contract (SFr1.5 million between 1990 and 1999).

Prosecutors claim Zäch bought a house for the foundation for SFr2 million and personally profited from the deal.

Investments in a series of property deals reportedly resulted in major losses for the foundation (SFr20 million in a hotel in Herisau, SFr17.8 million in a hotel in Dornach, and SFr7.7 million in a luxury hotel in Grindelwald).

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Key facts

The Swiss Paraplegics Foundation received SFr51.3 million in 2002 from 1.2 million donors.
It ranked second behind Rega (Swiss air rescuer) in terms of private donations.
Zäch set up the Swiss Paraplegics Foundation in 1975.

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