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Swissair execs cleared in criminal trial


BULACH, Switzerland— Former executives of failed airline Swissair have been cleared of criminal charges but some still face civil lawsuits that could take years to resolve.

The 19 former Swissair executives, directors and consultants were acquitted by a court in Bulach, Switzerland on June 7 of charges that they defrauded creditors, falsified documents, made false statements and committed other acts that led to the airline's collapse in 2001.

The defendants also were awarded 3 million Swiss francs ($2.4 million) by the court to cover their costs in the litigation. Such payments are allowed under Swiss law to defendants who are acquitted.

The acquittal does not, however, end some of the defendants' legal problems. Filippo Beck, a partner with the Zurich law firm Wenger Plattner, said his firm has filed civil suits that name some of the same defendants that faced criminal charges, although he did not identify which former executives are part of the civil action.

"Three civil suits against management and members of the board are pending and are at different stages," said Mr. Beck. "We are considering filing eight additional suits."The civil suits seek hundreds of millions of Swiss francs on behalf of creditors that include SAirGroup and Flightlease A.G.

The civil suits will not be impacted by the criminal court's recent decision, according to Mr. Beck. "The criminal prosecutor has to show intent; for a civil claim, you just have to show negligence," he explained.

It is unclear how long the civil suits could take to resolve, but Mr. Beck pointed out that, with appeals, the process could be lengthy. "It could take several years before we have a decision," he said.

After its collapse, Swissair's remains were used to form a new national carrier called Swiss. That airline was taken over by Lufthansa in 2005.