‘The Ferraris were a mistake’: Swiss mask entrepreneurs make millions during pandemic

Two 23-year-old Swiss entrepreneurs who became multi-millionaires by selling masks during the first wave of the pandemic have defended their actions while expressing regret for buying Ferraris with their earnings.

'The Ferraris were a mistake': Swiss mask entrepreneurs make millions during pandemic
Masks made at a factory in France. Photo: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

Swiss entrepreneurs Jascha Rudolphi and Luca Steffen became millionaires during the first wave of the pandemic by selling coronavirus protective masks. 

According to Swiss media, each of the two made between 30 and 100 million francs (€27-92M, $33-111M) as a result. 

Rudolphi and Steffen, both 23, imported the masks from abroad and sold them for between CHF8.50 (€7.80, $9.50) and CHF9.90 (€9.10, $11.06) through their company Emix. 

Similar masks now cost less than one franc at most retailers. 

REMINDER: What are the fines for breaking shutdown rules in Switzerland?

The entrepreneurs have come under fire for selling “unusable, perhaps even fake masks to the federal government for horrific sums” reports Swiss news outlet NZZ

In one such example, Emix sold around 700,000 masks from Egyptian manufacturer Chemi Pharma Medical to the Swiss army which were later presumed to be fakes, as the Egyptian company does not manufacture masks. 

The two entrepreneurs are facing potential criminal consequences for their actions. A charge of usury has been opened up by the Zurich public prosecutor's office, while a criminal investigation into Emix is ongoing. 




The manufacturers however dispute this claim, pointing out a memo from the German Ministry for Health – another Emix customer – who wrote that “”Overall, Emix offered above-average quality with its deliveries and proved to be professional and fast in cooperation.”

The men came to Switzerland’s attention in June of 2020 when news emerged that they had each purchased limited edition Ferraris worth more than CHF2.5 million (€2.3M, $2.8M), along with a number of other cars. 

‘We have protected millions’

In an interview with Swiss media outlet NZZ published on Thursday, the entrepreneurs said they had no regret for their actions – although they did acknowledge that the purchase of the special edition cars was a mistake. 

“Thanks to us, millions of doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters have been protected,” said Rudolphi.

“Regarding the accusation that we became rich with taxpayers' money, one must also say that we have now paid a lot of taxes in Switzerland.”

Steffen said it was just good business. 

“If you bear in mind that our profit came about through forward-looking negotiations in purchasing and logistics and through the huge volume, I don't have a guilty conscience for a second.”

Rudolphi said he understood why people were angry about the two purchasing Ferraris. 

“Buying the cars was insensitive at the time” he said. 


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What to know about getting medicine and prescriptions in Switzerland

It can be tricky navigating where you can stock up on medicines or get prescriptions in Switzerland. Here's what you should be aware of.

What to know about getting medicine and prescriptions in Switzerland

What can I get over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription?

Herbal remedies, supplements, and medicines such as lower-dose painkillers are all available without a prescription. You can buy some natural remedies and supplements in supermarkets and drug stores. 

Unlike countries such as the UK where certain non-prescription drugs are available in various shops such as supermarkets, in Switzerland they are only stocked in pharmacies known as Apotheken, Pharmacy, or Farmacia – depending on the linguistic region. That means you have to go to a Swiss pharmacy to get things like painkillers, cough mixture or similar products. 

Pharmacies can offer advice or a short consultation on treatment for non-serious ailments.

You have to pay the full price for OTC medicines, they are not covered by your health insurance. 

How do you get a prescription? 

If you need stronger drugs than those available over the counter, then you will need to visit a doctor (for example a GP or specialist). They can then fill a prescription slip out for you. This applies to items like antibiotics and high dosage painkillers, or drugs for more serious conditions like depression.

Where can I get my medicine? 

You can head to a pharmacy and give them the slip that your doctor filled out. They will then be able to give you – or order – your medicine.

It is best to register with a pharmacy in your town, rather than go from one to another each time you need to fill a prescription. Your pharmacy will keep all your prescriptions on file and keep track of all your meds and re-fills. 

Some GPs in Switzerland also have their own smaller pharmacies in their practice. This is particularly common in small towns and villages. You usually have to be registered with the doctor to use this kind of pharmacy. 

A selection of tablets.

A selection of tablets. Photo: Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay

Who pays for prescriptions?

In Switzerland, the cost of prescription medicines is generally shared between you and your health insurance provider. The insurance will typically pay 90 percent and you will pay the remainder, unless your doctor orders a brand drug where a generic alternative is available – in that case, you will have to pay 20 percent of the cost.

Your health insurance policy will require you to pay a set amount before your insurance covers the rest. So if you have a deductible of 300 francs, you’d generally pay that and the rest would be covered by your health insurance provider. However, that pertains not only to drugs, but also to all your other medical costs — in other words, the deductible you chose — which varies from 300 to 2,500 francs, depending on the amount you chose when you took out your policy.

READ ALSO: Which Swiss health insurance deductible makes most sense?

Generally, your health insurance provider will be billed directly by the pharmacy after you give your details. Your provider will then send a bill for you to pay your portion of the bill. However, some carriers require patients to pay and send the bill to the insurance for reimbursement.

Keep in mind, too, that after you use up your deductible, you will still be responsible for the co-insurance costs – the money you pay out of pocket towards health insurance costs – 10 percent in total.

However the co-insurance is capped at 700 francs a year, meaning that even if you have frequent, and costly, medical procedures, or take expensive meds, you will not be charged the 10-percent co-pay after you reach the 700-franc mark.

How much does medicine generally cost in Switzerland?

According to research, people in Switzerland pay significantly more than those in neighbouring European countries for medicines. 

Earlier this year, the umbrella association for Swiss health insurance providers, SantéSuisse, told Swiss news site 20 Minuten, that insurers and people in Switzerland now spend around 9 billion francs a year on prescriptions and other medication. 

The organisation said that around 25 percent of the cost of basic health insurance goes into funding the purchase of essential medicines.

SantéSuisse said the main drivers of increasing healthcare premiums are rising medicine prises and nursing services in care homes. 

“In Switzerland, we pay far too much for medicines compared to abroad,” said SantéSuisse spokesman Matthias Müller.

READ ALSO: What medicines you could struggle to find in Switzerland

He added that the cost of  patented drugs are an average of 9 percent more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, for other medication, people in Switzerland have to pay double, according to the research. 

The newspaper looked at a comparison of Swiss and German prices for medication. 

For Paracetamol, a 500 milligrams, 20 tablet box cost on average €2.24 in a German pharmacy, and 2.40 francs in a Swiss pharmacy – a surcharge of seven percent in Switzerland. 

In another example, Ibuprofen (400 milligrams, 20 tablets), cost €3.45 in Germany and 5.90 francs in Switzerland, a surcharge of 71 percent. 

A box of pantoprazole (a drug used to treat gastric reflux) is 12.95 francs in Switzerland compared to around 2.62 euros in Germany – a markup of 394 percent.

The association of pharmacists, PharmaSuisse, told 20 Minuten that it was not overcharging customers for items. It said that 60 percent of their medicines are sold at a near-loss after things like salaries and logistic costs are taken into the picture. 

Can foreign prescriptions be used in Switzerland?

Pharmacies will only accept prescriptions issued by doctors in Switzerland. So if you’re new to Switzerland, make sure to register with a local GP and talk to them if you need access to medicine that’s only available on prescription.

Can you import medicines to Switzerland?

According to Switzerland’s drug regulatory agency, Swissmedic, people “may import a month’s supply of medicines into Switzerland for their own use but not for third parties”.

This rule is for both residents and tourists. This means that you are only allowed to bring medications you will use yourself, (prescribed and not) and not sell them to others.

READ ALSO: Are there rules about bringing medicines to Switzerland?