Russian billionaire cleared of record Swiss fine

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Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg will not have to pay a record fine imposed by Bern after a Swiss court cleared him of having violated disclosure rules in the purchase of shares in OC Oerlikon.

The court said in a statement issued Thursday that the Swiss finance ministry's case against Vekselberg and two other investors Ronny Pecik and Georg Stumpf, was "without proof."

The three investors had filed an appeal against record fines of 40 million Swiss francs (30.5 million euros, 40.6 million dollars) imposed on each of them in December 2009 by the finance ministry.

The ministry claimed that the investors violated disclosure rules by not declaring that they were acting in a concerted manner as a group of investors to Swiss regulators, rather than as three separate investors.

However, the court rejected the ministry's accusations, ruling that what the ministry presented as evidence of "secret understanding" between the three was in fact part of "normal business dealings."

In 2006, Renova, an investment group owned by Vekselberg, purchased shares held by Pecik and Stumpf in Oerlikon, raising the suspicion of Swiss authorities.

The record fine had sparked tensions between Bern and Moscow, and Russian finance minister Alexey Kudrin said in January that it did not help to improve relations between the two countries.

Renova, which holds 46.11 percent of OC Oerlikon, also holds 31.2 percent of industrial group Sulzer.

The Swiss finance ministry had also filed another case in 2009 against the three investors, accusing them of similar disclosure issues in the purchase of Sulzer.

That case is "still being examined," a Renova spokesman said.

© 2010 AFP

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