Observer - US

German chancellor Angela Merkel has a packed schedule during her two-day trip to the United States starting on Wednesday but, sadly for America’s “power-Frauen”, there is no time to meet the country’s top female politicians.

The group, which includes Hillary Clinton, have been bidding for a chat with Germany’s first female chancellor since she took office last November, but have failed to win a time slot both on this visit and on an earlier one in January.

Merkel’s aides insist that their leader is keen to exchange experiences about life as a woman at the top and that scheduling is the only problem.

One solution for the US women could, of course, be to ask the people who are meeting Merkel what she is like. On Thursday morning, for instance, she has a briefing with big cheeses from General Electric, Monsanto, Hewlett-Packard, Dow Chemical, Siemens and DaimlerChrysler. All chief executives and all, er, male.

That does not mean women’s issues are not on the agenda, however. President George W. Bush is expected to raise the issue of prostitution in Germany, which has become a hot issue ahead of the soccer World Cup finals. Human rights activists have been casting light on the subject after reports that women might be brought in to Germany from poorer countries to meet demand for prostitutes during the finals.

Finding his religion

Nearly a year after being acquitted in a $2.7bn fraud trial, Richard Scrushy is back in court this week in Montgomery, Alabama, facing fresh corruption charges.

The HealthSouth founder is accused of giving cash to former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in return for a seat on a state board that regulates hospitals – including the ones operated by his former company.

During his first trial, Scrushy was accused of currying favour with jurors by being ordained as a minister and hosting a daily Christian talk show on local cable television. Federal prosecutors, still smarting from their defeat last year, are understandably nervous, therefore, about a renewed burst of religious activity by Scrushy in the run up to his latest trial.

The 53-year-old recently co-founded a missionary group called Kingdom Builders International Ministries, which is aiming to spread Christianity in Africa and build a Bible-based university in Alabama.

A launch party was held last week. Prosecutors call the timing “more than a coincidence”.

Careful driving

Discussion over the future of chief executives at German carmakers by their own chairmen has been all the rage recently in Germany. Almost every day a new theory of what will happen at Volkswagen emerges.

But with Bernd Pischetsrieder seemingly certain of remaining CEO, attention may turn to his former employer, BMW.

The Bavarian luxury brand also has a chief executive – Helmut Panke – whose contract comes up for renewal soon.

His problem? He will turn 60 this year, the unofficial retirement age at BMW.

Joachim Milberg, BMW’s chairman and Panke’s predecessor as chief executive, is more coy than his VW counterpart, Ferdinand Piëch. Piëch described the future of Pischetsrieder as “open” in February.

Asked whether he would say the same about Panke, Milberg smiled broadly, before saying simply: “Personnel decisions are discussed by the supervisory board. They are the most important things we can discuss.”

Several other names are in the hat. Stefan Krause, chief financial officer, like Panke before he became CEO, is respected by analysts but seen as maybe too young.

Norbert Reithofer, head of production, and Michael Ganal, head of sales, are also seen as possible candidates, as BMW normally chooses internally, but some question how broad their experience is.

The favourite remains Panke, who has deepened BMW’s success. Unlike the relish many at VW seemed to take in airing their dirty laundry, virtually the only public pronouncement at BMW so far was Panke’s curt phrase in March: “I like being captain.”

Thrice removed

Swiss Re’s prospectus for the rights issue that will help to finance its purchase of General Electric Insurance Solutions says the GEIS earnings had “been adjusted to exclude the excluded items, including the excluded operations”.

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