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CFO Widow Tells Investors Zurich Wrong Over Suicide

April 2 (Bloomberg) -- More than seven months after the suicide of Zurich Insurance Group AG Chief Financial Officer Pierre Wauthier, his widow said she and her family cannot accept Zurich’s claim that his death wasn’t brought on by undue stress.

“We who knew him best cannot accept your conclusion that his suicide is simply inexplicable,” said Fabienne Wauthier, speaking at the insurer’s annual general meeting in Zurich today, which she attended together with her daughter, mother-in-law and brother-in-law.

Switzerland’s biggest insurer said in November that no “undue pressure” was put on Wauthier, who said in a suicide note that then-Chairman Josef Ackermann had created an unbearable working environment. The Aug. 26 suicide, which prompted Ackermann to resign, raised doubts about Zurich Insurance’s financial health, prompting it to review its earnings statements and commission an investigation into the relations between executives and the supervisory board.

Zurich Insurance should explain exactly why Ackermann stepped down, if he had not accepted blame for the death, and why details of tensions at work were not made public, Wauthier told shareholders.

She changed her Facebook profile picture to a face mask labeled “V...like Vendetta” on Dec. 16, the day after SonntagsZeitung published an interview with new Chairman Tom de Swaan in which he said he never had contact with her. She re-posted the article on Facebook the same day with the comment “Yep, that’s true. I am not worth talking to... or is it that I would raise unbecoming questions????”

‘Corporate Culture’

“We sincerely wish we could believe” that Zurich has improved, “but the way it handled Pierre’s suicide is a sign that unaccountability remains part of Zurich’s corporate culture,” she said today.

Before his death, Wauthier had met with the human resources department after his team reported that he was suffering from excessive stress, she told Reuters yesterday.

In a typed and signed suicide note, under the heading “to whom it may concern,” Wauthier had criticized Ackermann. He stepped down a few days later, saying the allegations that he bore some responsibility for the suicide were “unfounded.”

“I find it important and am thankful that we and the responsible authorities examined the circumstances very conscientiously and thoroughly,” de Swaan told shareholders. “We did not have any indication that Pierre was contemplating such a step. It remains a tragedy and we lost a very valued colleague.”

Internal Probe

An internal investigation by Zurich Insurance involved evaluating “numerous documents and correspondence,” while questioning individuals who worked with the former CFO.

A separate review held by the company into its financial statements showed that they were “appropriate.” The reviews were conducted under the direction of Swiss financial markets regulator Finma.

Zurich said last month that it will save $250 million annually by cutting as many as 800 jobs after lowering its profit goal in December. The insurer plans to remove management layers between the headquarters and individual business units to reduce costs and said it would achieve the savings by the end of next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Bandel in Zurich at cbandel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net Mark Bentley, Jon Menon

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