ZURICH (Reuters) – Marcel Ospel, the Swiss banker who help forge UBS <UBSG.S> and led the lender to near-collapse, has died at the age of 70, Swiss media reported on Monday.
Ospel, who became a divisive figure in Switzerland due to his lavish pay and his presiding over the biggest crisis in the bank’s history, died from a long-standing illness.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of Mr. Ospel’s death,” UBS said in a statement on its former chief executive and chairman.
The three-times married banker was the architect of what was originally meant to be called United Bank of Switzerland — the fusion of Swiss Bank Corp and Union Bank of Switzerland in 1998.
Under Ospel’s leadership UBS carried out the aggressive risk-taking strategy in the United States which nearly brought the bank to its knees as the credit crisis hit in 2007.
The Swiss government was forced to rescue the bank after it nearly collapsed under the weight of more than $50 billion in losses on mortgage securities.
The government took a 9% stake in UBS as part of the bailout, which saw UBS receive a 6-billion-Swiss-franc shot in the arm.
Swiss tabloid daily Blick ran a highly critical front-page story in 2006 publicising Ospel’s salary, which at a reported 26 million Swiss francs ($26.7 million) made him the highest-paid corporate manager in Switzerland.
The Basel-born executive also refused to continue funding the ailing national airline Swissair before the carrier collapsed in 2001. He quit as UBS chairman in April 2008, and later agreed to pay back millions of his payment.
(Reporting by John Revill, additional reporting by Oliver Hirt, editing by Louise Heavens)