Johann Rupert, Federico Marchetti

LONDON — Richemont is standing by its founder and chairman Johann Rupert’s decision to get vaccinated early for COVID-19 after a Swiss newspaper accused him of cheating the system.

The Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that Rupert received his first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 12, shortly before the official vaccination program began in the canton of Thurgau, in northeastern Switzerland.

The newspaper also accused Rupert of working his personal connections to get the shot. One of the South African billionaire’s companies is invested indirectly in a private clinic operated by the Hirslanden group. The group is in charge of administering the vaccine in Thurgau.

The Hirslanden group is owned by Mediclinic, which is controlled one of Rupert’s companies.

The Swiss paper argued that Rupert wasn’t playing by the rules, and potentially took the place of older and more vulnerable people who might be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Rupert is 70 , and the vaccination program currently prioritizes those over 75, and people with chronic diseases.

A Richemont spokesperson said that “as a Swiss taxpayer for over 30 years who qualifies for the vaccine, we can confirm that Mr. Johann Rupert has been vaccinated against COVID-19.” It is understood that Rupert qualified for the vaccine because of underlying health vulnerabilities.

Rupert has been keeping a watchful eye on Richemont throughout the pandemic, and made it clear last May that mass vaccination was absolutely necessary before life could return to normal, and that he was keen for a scientific breakthrough.

He said he hoped the virus was “a-once-in-a-lifetime event,” and expressed concern that millions have lost their jobs or been put on government-supported schemes, and that some businesses would not survive.

As for Richemont itself, Rupert said “what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we run our business in such a way, responsibly, that we ride out the COVID-19 tragedy until such a time that enough people have been vaccinated.

“I believe in human ingenuity. I believe that when you have more than 100 institutions working on various ways to attack the virus that we will find something. I am in weekly touch with some very serious scientists, and they are quite hopeful about a number of breakthroughs,” that are possible, Rupert said during the call.