Position: Swiss Finance Minister
Incumbent: Hans-Rudolf Merz, 67
Term: January 2004 to October 2010. Merz announced his resignation on Aug. 6; parliament will elect his successor in late September.
-- During the free-market liberal’s tenure, the Swiss government had to bail out UBS, the world’s second largest wealth manager, whose risky bets led to more than $50 billion in write-downs and huge losses. Merz was in an artificial coma in hospital at the time after suffering a heart attack. Berne also agreed last year to hand over to U.S. tax officials the names of 4,450 tax evaders holding secret accounts with UBS.
-- A long-standing defender of banking secrecy, Merz came under heavy fire for eventually weakening the cherished Swiss banking secrecy as he tried to ease pressure on Switzerland’s $2 trillion offshore banking industry from key trading partners. Switzerland had to sign at least 12 revised double taxation agreements to be removed from the OECD’s list of tax havens, agreeing to provide cross-boarder legal assistance in cases of tax evasion.
-- While holding the rotating Swiss presidency in 2009, Merz was also accused of mishandling a diplomatic crisis stemming from the July 2008 arrest of a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Geneva on charges of abusing domestic workers. Merz flew to Tripoli to apologise to Gaddafi but returned without two Swiss businessmen being detained in Libya. They were released in 2010.
-- Born in the Swiss-German speaking northeastern canton (state) of Appenzell, Merz studied at the University of St. Gallen, obtaining a doctorate in political science in 1971. In the Swiss army, he rose to the rank of major.
-- Merz served on the boards of Swiss companies including Helvetia HELN.S Patria Assurances, Huber & Suhner AG HUBN.S. and the Appenzell Ausserrhoden cantonal bank. He represented Appenzell Ausserrhoden half-canton in the Swiss parliament (Council of States) before being elected to the Federal Council in Dec. 2003. He is a member of the Free Democratic Party.
-- Merz had a heart attack in September 2008 and underwent a quintuple bypass operation, returning to work six weeks later.