Swiss central bank chief quits over wife's currency deal

Mon Jan 9, 2012 2:09pm EST
 
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By Catherine Bosley and Caroline Copley

BERNE (Reuters) - Swiss National Bank Chairman Philipp Hildebrand resigned with immediate effect on Monday, saying he could not prove he had been unaware of a currency trade made by his wife and wanted to protect the integrity of the central bank.

Hildebrand's decision to relinquish one of the world's top central banking jobs after just two years came as Swiss parliamentarians met to discuss the scandal, which erupted last week after Sarasin bank sacked an employee who leaked details of the trade to a political opponent of the central banker.

Hildebrand's wife Kashya, a former hedge fund trader who now runs a Zurich art gallery, bought 400,000 Swiss francs ($418,000) worth of dollars on August 15, three weeks before her husband oversaw steps to cap the rise of the safe-haven franc. She later sold the dollars at a higher rate.

At a news conference four days ago, Hildebrand had resisted calls to step down, saying he only learned of his wife's trade the day after she made it and rejecting claims that he had personally authorized the currency deal.

But he told reporters on Monday he could not provide final evidence that he had been unaware of the trade and had decided to step down as he realized the intense public scrutiny over the affair was compromising his credibility.

"I have come to the conclusion that it is not possible to provide conclusive and final evidence that my wife did indeed initiate the foreign exchange transaction on the 15th August without my knowledge," he said.

"The fact is: my word is my bond. I had no knowledge of my wife's transaction on that day," he said.

Christoph Blocher, a leading figure in the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) who had long called for Hildebrand's head and who handed over documents on the currency trades to the government, welcomed his resignation.   Continued...