Swiss Minister Who Helped Bail Out UBS Will Step Down

  • Widmer-Schlumpf announcement follows Oct. 18 national vote
  • Known for deciding against extradition of Roman Polanski

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who played a key role in the bailout of UBS Group AG and in the U.S. dispute over offshore bank accounts, won’t run for re-election to Switzerland’s government.

“In my life, I decide something and then I look forward,” she said at a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, explaining she told her government colleagues that she will leave at the end of the year.

Doubts about whether Widmer-Schlumpf, currently finance minister, would retain membership in the multi-party government increased after the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party, or SVP, from which she acrimoniously split, was the big winner in parliamentary elections on Oct. 18.

That showing strengthened the SVP’s claim to the second executive seat they lost when Widmer-Schlumpf left in 2008 and founded her own party, which saw its share of the vote diminish. That provided fresh ammunition to critics who contend she doesn’t deserve to be in government.

The 59-year-old made international headlines in 2010 when, as justice minister, she decided against extraditing Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski to the U.S. Stepping in for the hospitalized finance minister, she had previously facilitated the government bailout of UBS, the country’s biggest bank, which had suffered huge writedowns due to the U.S. sub-prime crisis.

“I did my work, I didn’t do it too poorly, we had various results,” she said.

Switzerland’s multi-party government, which operates on the basis of consensus with dissenters not voicing their views in public, will be voted upon by parliament in secret balloting on Dec. 9. Membership is determined on the basis of proportionality, as well as strategic deals among parties.

The SVP said it would decide on a candidate on Nov. 20. Potential names include lawmakers Heinz Brand and Hannes Germann, according to a report on the website of SRF television.

Widmer-Schlumpf’s decision doesn’t mean that the SVP will definitely get the seat. Lawmakers may try to stymie the party’s advances by going for a candidate from the Christian Democrats.

She was at the center of the action when UBS faced the prospect of a criminal indictment on suspicion it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes. She spearheaded the government’s agreement in August 2009 to hand over details on 4,450 clients of UBS to the U.S., a bid to forestall further action against the bank.

In 2013, she then initiated Switzerland’s move to join the international push against tax dodgers and help develop global standards allowing banks to share customers’ details. That effectively would end banking secrecy for offshore accounts, a law dating back to 1934. It was the “right” step, she said at the press conference.

Having studied law at the University of Zurich, Widmer-Schlumpf began ascending the political ladder within the SVP. She was elected to the seven-member government in 2007 and named justice minister. Her taking over of that post from the incumbent, billionaire SVP member Christoph Blocher, led her to be expelled from the party.

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