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CEO of top Swiss bank dies suddenly, sparking rumours of suicide
UPDATED: 11:24 EDT, 5 December 2008

Bank chief Alex Widmer died unexpectedly

The CEO of Julius Baer, Switzerland's biggest private bank, has died unexpectedly.

Alex Widmer, a widower, died aged 52, leaving behind three children.

It has been reported that close friends of Mr Widmer's family said he committed suicide, though Swiss police will not confirm this.

Julius Baer dates back to the 19th century and manages more than 360billion Swiss franch in assets for wealthy individuals and institutions.

Shares in Julius Baer have lost some 60 per cent this year as markets have worried about outflows at its hedge fund GAM.

However a spokesman for the bank said there was no link between Mr Widmer's death and the group's current activities, but declined to give further details on the cause of death on Wednesday night.

A source said employees at the bank had been told Widmer had died from an unspecified illness.

In an interview with Bloomberg conducted the day before his death, Mr Widmer said: 'Even if global wealth creation is getting slower, we should do better than the rest.'

A Zurich-based trader who did not want to be named said: 'It is a great shame. It is very sad. He [Mr Widmer] embodied Julius Baer. He was the most important person in private banking.'

Following the news, shares in Julius Baer fell 6.5 per cent to 34.60 Swiss francs, underperforming a 1.5 per cent drop in the DJ Stoxx index of European banking stocks.

Mr Widmer will be succeeded by Hans de Gier, who served as the CEO of Julius Baer Group until September 2008 when he stepped down to focus on his role as chairman of hedge fund unit GAM.

'This is a setback for the bank. Widmer is widely regarded as the architect of its new direction,' Claude Zehnder, a ZKB trading analyst said.

'However, with De Gier they have someone very experienced in place who knows the bank inside out,' he said.

Commenting on Mr Widmer's death, Chairman Raymond Baer said in a statement: 'We have lost a dear friend, a good colleague and a charismatic leader. Alex very successfully opened up new dimensions for the Private Banking business of Julius Baer.

'His enormous commitment, his active relationship and close involvement with the clients and his passion for banking will forever serve as a model for us.'

Mr Widmer joined the Julius Baer Group in 2005 as a member of the executive board and head of private banking and became the CEO of Bank Julius Baer in November 2007.

The bulk of his career was spent at Credit Suisse, where he worked for 19 years, as global head of private banking from 2002 to 2005 and as a member of the executive board.

Before that he was the chief executive of Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific and Middle East business. He also worked in Tokyo and New York early in his career after gaining a doctorate in economics from the prestigious St. Gallen university in 1985.

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