The head of Swiss herbal sweet company Ricola, Adrian Kohler, sent a letter to company leaders admitting responsibility for accounting irregularities before killing himself on Thursday.
Kohler, 53, took his life by jumping onto train tracks near Moutier, in the northwest of the country, early on Thursday morning.
Before learning of his suicide, police arrived at the headquarters of Ricola in Laufen, in the canton of Basel Country. They had been warned by close friends that he could commit “an unthinking act.” Police found nothing suspicious.
By 9am, news of Kohler's suicide reached the company and his family.
Newspaper Blick reports that Kohler had already revealed details of his fraudulent practices during an “explosive” company meeting on Tuesday.
A spokesman said Ricola had not taken a decision on whether to suspend of dismiss Kohler by the time of his death.
The company said it has not yet found any evidence of embezzlement or misappropriation.
Kohler started working for Ricola as an accountant 25 years ago, and soon rose to become head of finances. He took the role of CEO in 2004, becoming the first person outside the founding Richterich family to head the company. Ricola’s sales rocketed under Kohler’s leadership.
The candy and infusion maker’s sales stood at 300.8 million francs ($326 million) in 2010. Even though it trebled sales over a 20-year period, figures were down 4.9 percent on the year before. Like many other Swiss companies, Ricola was hit by the strong franc with exports accounting for 90 percent of its business. Still, the company has always said that it will stand by Switzerland and will never relocate.
The company informed employees of Kohler's death on Friday and sent them home. In an official statement, Ricola highlighted his “extraordinary capacity” to lead the international group and said they had lost “a popular supervisor, who was also a good colleague and a loyal friend.”
The family-run company was founded in 1930. A decade later, Emil Richterich found the ‘magic’ formula for herbal candies. In seven decades, Ricola went from being a small business to one of the most renowned Swiss brands, employing more than 400 people.
Adrian Kohler leaves behind two grown children and a wife.