Switzerland: Dispute over Stiftung Kunst Kultur und Geschichte

Posted on: September 12, 2014 by

The Swiss charitable foundation for art, culture and history (Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, ‘SKKG’) has become the subject of a major dispute. SKKG was established in 1980 by Bruno Stefanini, one of Switzerland’s biggest real estate magnates, with the aim of supporting and maintaining Western art in general and Swiss objects of artistic, cultural or historical value in particular.

Today, SKKG is widely regarded as owning one of the most significant private collections of Swiss art works. Over the years, Stefanini has amassed more than 8,000 objects among which important works of leading Swiss artists such as Albert Anker, Ferdinand Hodler, Augusto Giacometti, and Félix Vallotton can be found. In addition, Stefanini has collected various memorabilia such as the riding costume of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the will of Napoléon Bonaparte and the Rolls-Royce of Greta Garbo. In total, the value of SKKG’s collection is estimated to exceed Swiss Francs 1 billion.

SKKG’s board of trustees comprises seven members. Stefanini, who headed the board of trustees for over 20 years, resigned as Chairman in March 2013 owing to health reasons. While his daughter claims that her father suffers from severe dementia, the board of trustees maintains that Stefanini is still in a position to discuss matters concerning his foundation. Stefanini remains a regular board member whereas his children, Bettina and Vital Stefanini, have never served on the board of SKKG.

The current deed of foundation of SKKG stipulates that at least one member of the founder’s family should sit on the board of trustees and that only Stefanini has the right to appoint board members. In case of the founder’s ill health, the latter competence falls to his legal heirs. The board of trustees now intends to revoke the former provision and transfer the competence contained in the latter provision to itself, two amendments which Stefanini’s children strongly oppose.

(Since the intended amendments would result in a change of SKKG’s organisation, they are possible for compelling reasons only. In addition, such amendments require the approval of the Supervisory Authority. See art. 85 Swiss Civil Code: “D. Modification of the foundation, I. Reorganisation – At the request of the supervisory authority and having heard the board of trustees, the competent federal or cantonal authority may modify the foundation’s organisation where such a step is urgently required in order to preserve the foundation’s assets or safeguard the pursuit of its objects.” To this day, the Federal Supervisory Authority’s approval is still pending.)

Stefanini’s children are of the opinion that the amendments are intended to limit their rights and keep them from the SKKG when their father eventually steps down. In this context it is worth noting that Stefanini’s descendants have both renounced their inheritance to the benefit of SKKG.

Confronted with these allegations, the chairman of the board of trustees states that the goal is merely to amend provisions that have become out of date. In addition he maintains that Bruno Stefanini himself has consented to these amendments and that the board of trustees welcomes members of the Stefanini family to join the board.

Bettina and Vital Stefanini disagree and have lodged a complaint with the Federal Supervisory Authority in accordance with art. 84 (2) Swiss Civil Code.

Sources: ‘Bruno Stefaninis Tochter erhebt schwere Vorwürfe gegen Stiftungsrat‘ published on Der Landbote on 8th Sept 2014; ‘Das Phantom und seine Schatzkammer‘ published on Tagesanzeiger on 8th Sept 2014; ‘Die Kinder des Immobilienmagnaten sind nicht erwünscht‘ published on Tagesanzeiger on 8th Sept 2014; ‘Ich fiel aus allen Wolken‘, interview with Bettina Stefanini published on Tagesanzeiger on 9th Sept 2014.