Every year, investigativ.ch, an association of investigative journalists, bestows an award on the public figure it deems to have exercised the lowest levels of transparency during the year. This year the award went to Karin Keller-Sutter, Switzerland’s minister of finance, for the secret decision making process surrounding the fire sale of the bank Credit Suisse to UBS, another Swiss bank. The arrangement was backstopped by the federal government, and ultimately taxpayers, and stripped Credit Suisse shareholders of their normal rights to vote on the deal.
The award, known as the golden brake shoe (le Sabot d’or) in French and the golden brake chock (Der Goldener Bremsklotz) in German, was assigned based on the votes of 350 members who allocated their votes to three nominees. This year the nominees were: Migros, Zurich councillor Mario Fehr and Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter.
Despite exposing taxpayers to a CHF 209 billion loss, the public was denied access to relevant information on the Credit Suisse deal, said the association. The Federal Council, with Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter leading the process, acted under an emergency decree, declaring many aspects of the process a secret matter. Information, especially regarding liquidity support and default guarantees was kept secret. In addition, media inquiries on the subject were repeatedly turned down, said investigativ.ch.
Such secrecy endangers trust in the government, especially at a time when trust plays a key role, said Marc Meschenmoser, co-president of investigativ.ch.
In addition, the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) and a parliamentary commission have criticised the lack of transparency around the secretive deal. They argue that there is no legal basis for repealing the Public Information Act. Legal experts are also calling for relevant documents to be disclosed.
The government defended the secrecy citing the sensitivity of the business information involved and risks to the deal. The Finance Department declined to comment pointing out that the decisions criticised by investigativ.ch had been made by the entire Federal Council.
Unsurprisingly, the minister did not agree to personally accept the award at a ceremony on 31 October 2023 in Zurich. Instead, the golden trophy was awarded in absentia.