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Cablegate: Finance Minister Suffers Heart Attack

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSW #0480 2661421
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221421Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY BERN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5327

UNCLAS BERN 000480

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN ETRD PGOV SZ
SUBJECT: FINANCE MINISTER SUFFERS HEART ATTACK

REF: 08 BERN 472

1. (U) Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz suffered a heart
attack on Saturday, September 20 and subsequently was placed
into an artificial coma and underwent quintuple bypass
surgery. His condition is listed as critical but stable.
The doctors confirmed that his heart now seems to be
circulating properly, but they will not know if he suffered
any brain damage until he is conscious. They also could not
comment on when or if he will be able to return to work.

2. (U) In the interim, the Department of Finance will be
headed by Minister of Justice and Police Eveline
Widmer-Schlumpf. Although no longer in the financial arena,
Widmer-Schlumpf previously was the head of her cantonal
Department of Finance from 1999 through 2007.

3. (U) It is not expected that Merz's condition will affect
the Swiss financial sector despite news commentary that his
absence could be detrimental given the current state of world
financial markets. The Swiss financial market opened with
little movement and did not indicate any reaction to the news
of Merz's heart attack. The Swiss financial system has
remained stable and the professional community believes that
the banks are insulated from the current global financial
turmoil (Ref A). At a recent Swiss Bankers Association
congress, the assembled financial community opined that
Switzerland is the best financially situated country in
Europe and they were confident that the financial sector
could ride out the world crisis. The Swiss economy continues
to grow at a rate of about 2 percent and exports have not
only held up, but expanded, in the first 8 months of the
year.

4. (SBU) On the political front, Merz was on tap to be
Switzerland's President next year per the Swiss tradition of
their Parliament voting for the Federal Council's most senior
member. If Merz is not able to return, Defense Minister
Samuel Schmid would become the presumptive candidate for the
Presidency. Merz's illness likely will add fuel to the
ongoing public discussions about the possible turnover in
Council membership, which has been spurred on during the
summer by Schmid's political troubles, including calls by
some Swiss politicians for his resignation.
CARTER

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