GENEVA — Switzerland's biggest political party has called for the country's central bank chief to resign, saying Philipp Hildebrand broke the law by conducting private currency deals while he was leading efforts to soften the Swiss franc.
The nationalist Swiss People's Party, which won more than a quarter of the vote in last year's election, said Hildebrand was "no longer tenable" as president of the central bank, a day after the 48-year-old broke his silence to deny wrongdoing and dismiss calls for his resignation.
"The best thing would be if he himself took the consequences," the party's deputy general-secretary, Silvia Baer, told The Associated Press on Friday. "Otherwise it's up to the appropriate oversight authorities to recall him."
The Swiss National Bank acts independently of the government, but its president is elected by the seven-member Cabinet, which can also remove him or her following a request by the central bank's supervisory council.
Hildebrand, whose six-year term began Jan 1., 2010, is considered a pillar of the central bank's success in steering Switzerland through the worst of the global financial crisis. But his decision to buy and sell U.S. dollars at a time when the central bank was taking major monetary decisions has led to accusations of naivety and possibly insider trading.
The former swimming champion and hedge fund manager on Thursday denied breaking the bank's internal rules, saying his only mistake was not to reverse a particularly sensitive transaction conducted by his American wife from their joint account.
Still, Hildebrand acknowledged that the public was now raising "moral questions" about his behavior and pledged to review the bank's rules on personal transactions.
A senior figure in the People's Party said that isn't enough.
Lawmaker Christoph Blocher — a billionaire businessman who first brought leaked statements of Hildebrand's bank transactions to the attention of the government — has demanded a parliamentary inquiry into the whole affair.
Such an inquiry would prolong the focus on Hildebrand's personal finances at a time when he is meant to keep Switzerland from being drawn into the euro crisis affecting its neighbors.
Under Hildebrand's leadership the Swiss central bank last year took several steps to halt the rise of the franc against the euro, including setting a minimum exchange rate for the euro of 1.20 francs, which also pushed up the dollar just weeks after Hildebrand's wife Kashya had bought some $504,000.
In early October, the couple sold a similar amount of dollars for what appeared to be a profit of several tens of thousands of francs (dollars). Hildebrand said he has since donated the profit to a Swiss charitable organization.
Without naming Blocher, Hildebrand told reporters Thursday that those now engaged in "attacks on me as an individual" were harming the interests of Switzerland. Hildebrand said he would consult with his lawyer on whether to take legal steps against those involved in leaking details of his account at the exclusive Basel-based bank Sarasin.
Zurich prosecutors said Friday they have opened a criminal investigation against a former employee of the private bank.