Judge Acquits Swissair Chiefs in Airline Collapse

A Swiss judge acquitted all 19 former executives of failed airline Swissair of criminal wrongdoing on Thursday, ending Switzerland's biggest-ever economic crime trial.

Chief Judge Andreas Fischer acquitted the group's last executive officer, Mario Corti, and his co-defendants of charges that included defrauding creditors, falsifying documents, breach of trust, and making false statements.

Fischer awarded around 3 million Swiss francs ($2.46 million) in compensation to be shared among the defendants.

Switzerland's flagship airline Swissair collapsed in 2001 with around 17 billion Swiss francs in debt, due in part to an aggressive international expansion and a brutal downturn in the travel industry.

"There is no evidence that the defendants knowingly acted to damage the company," said Fischer.

"In part, there is a lack of evidence from the prosecuting attorney that the critical actions taken actually led to damage at the SAirGroup," he said, referring to the holding company for the airline.

The wealthy nation -- home to some of the world's largest companies like Nestle, Roche and UBS -- has struggled ever since to come to terms with the "grounding" of Swissair, which was an icon of national reliability, quality and efficiency.

Prosecutors have the right to appeal against the acquittal to a higher court but serious charges will be difficult or impossible to pursue as the statute of limitations on many of the events expires in 2008.