Pressure mounts on SNB's Danthine over forex trade

ZURICH Sun Mar 11, 2012 6:43am EDT

Swiss National Bank (SNB) board member Jean-Pierre Danthine addresses a news conference in Zurich March 7, 2012. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Swiss National Bank (SNB) board member Jean-Pierre Danthine addresses a news conference in Zurich March 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss National Bank board member Jean-Pierre Danthine faced growing criticism on Sunday, over transactions uncovered by an audit launched after central bank chief Philipp Hildebrand was forced to quit after a big currency trade by his wife.

Christoph Blocher, a senior figure in the right-wing Swiss People's Party who led calls in January for Hildebrand's head, told Der Sonntag newspaper Danthine might have to go too.

"We'll have to see whether Danthine can survive or not," Blocher told the newspaper, noting the audit had discovered Danthine had sold 126,000 euros ($165,300) for francs in 2010 shortly before the SNB stopped intervening to weaken the franc.

"He knew very well that the euro would lose value as soon as the national bank stopped its intervention," Blocher said.

When the audit was published on Wednesday, Danthine said he had never used privileged information for his personal benefit and that the trade was the result of his desire to remove all bank shares from his portfolio upon joining the central bank.

Danthine said he was aware that public opinion had become particularly sensitive to financial dealings by SNB board members but said he hoped he retained the public's confidence so he could continue to work in the interests of the central bank.

Auditor KPMG was asked to examine the personal financial transactions of the SNB's three-member board and their deputies after Hildebrand quit over a lucrative trade made by his wife weeks before the SNB set a cap on the franc's value on September 6.

KPMG revealed Danthine had made two foreign currency transactions that needed closer examination, but concluded he had not exploited confidential information for personal profit.

The other trade involved selling 197,674 euros for francs to pay into the SNB pension fund after Danthine joined the bank.

Der Sonntag quoted unnamed SNB insiders as saying Danthine might even have to step down on Wednesday, when the Swiss parliament is holding a special debate on the SNB and a day before the board holds its quarterly monetary policy meeting.

The SNB was not immediately available for comment on the report.

ETHICAL PERSON

After the audit, the SNB's supervisory bank council said it continued to have full confidence in Danthine. Council president Hansueli Raggenbass reiterated that view on Sunday.

"Danthine is an absolutely ethical person. This transaction was not about making money," Raggenbass told Der Sonntag, adding losing a second SNB board member would be "really not good".

Separately, the Tagesanzeiger daily on Saturday criticized Danthine's involvement in organizing lavish dinners to attract speakers to Lausanne University, where he was economics professor before joining the SNB in January 2010.

The newspaper quoted the SNB as saying Danthine was only working part-time at the university and had no official function at the time of the program under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper said the bank council would announce on Monday strict new regulations to limit personal financial transactions by the board's three members, their deputies and their partners.

The KPMG audit gave Thomas Jordan -- who took over as interim SNB head when Hildebrand resigned -- a clean bill of health, clearing the way for him to get the top job permanently.

The Swiss government said on Friday it would only make the appointment next month, despite coming under pressure to restore stability to the SNB as the franc flirts with the 1.20 per euro cap set to protect exporters from the currency's strength.

($1 = 0.7622 euros)

(Editing by David Hulmes)

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