In July 2020, shipowner Hans-Jürg Grunder from the canton of Bern was convicted by the cantonal commercial criminal court of fraud, multiple qualified unfair business dealings and fraud. This is a criminal offense in the Federal Act on National Economic Supply.
In addition to imprisonment, the court also sentenced the shipowner to pay the canton of Bern a so-called compensation claim of CHF 1.2 million. Such claims arise when illegally acquired assets of a convict were supposed to be confiscated, but these are no longer available.
The court also ordered Grunder to pay millions in damages to several private plaintiffs. In autumn 2020, the convict appealed, which is why the Bern High Court is now reviewing the verdict of the first instance. Grunder appeared at the courthouse on Monday.
Not only did he appeal, as the presiding judge announced at the beginning of the trial, but a number of other parties involved in the trial.
Until 2017, the Bernese shipowner was sailing the seven seas with a dozen ships. In 2015, the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (BWL) determined that the shipping company and the individual ship operating companies were experiencing financial difficulties, which led to attempts at restructuring.
These failed after about a year and the ships finally had to be sold.
Because the banks withdrew the guarantees with which the federal government had secured the ships, the Confederation suffered losses of around CHF 200 million, according to the financial delegation of the Federal Council (FinDel).
The court of first instance ruled in 2020 that Grunder was not responsible for such a large amount of damage. Within his company network, however, Grunder damaged several Swiss companies in favor of foreign subsidiaries. He did this by moving funds back and forth and granting so-called intercompany loans.
The presiding judge said in the summer of 2020 that the amount of the offense for this unfaithful business management was around 30 million francs. She went on to say that Grunder had submitted 56 false annual accounts from the ship operating companies to the federal government.
When he applied for a federal guarantee for a new ship, he also gave the BWL a higher purchase price than agreed with the Chinese seller. He got a guarantee that was 2.7 million francs higher and cheated the later Swiss buyer of the ship by a little over 3 million francs
The presiding judge of the Supreme Court emphasized on Monday that the presumption of innocence still applies to founders.
At the first-instance trial, a Bern prosecutor demanded a prison sentence of 7.5 years, and the shipowner’s defense attorneys demanded an acquittal of all charges. The same prosecutor as in the first trial of 2020 attends the Supreme Court trial. The court wants to announce the verdict on June 3rd.