Swiss: 1,500 money-laundering cases last year

GENEVA — Unpaid fees lead to safe deposit caches of suspicious paintings and expensive jewelry. A foreign client’s offshore deposits turn up possibly forged documents from the sale of tanks and high-caliber weapons to an African defense ministry.

They were among more than 1,500 suspected money-laundering cases that Swiss authorities disrupted last year, including 15 linked to terrorist financing, officials said Tuesday.

In all, there were 1,585 “suspicious activity reports” for 2012 involving 3.15 billion Swiss francs ($3.3 billion) — just six of the reports accounted for almost half of all the money. The past two years have seen an almost 50 percent jump in the number of cases compared with previous years.

Two-thirds of the cases were linked to banking, and more than 200 cases involved more than 100,000 Swiss francs ($104,000). The rest were mainly tied to payment services, fiduciary and asset managers.

Switzerland has in recent years tried to shed its image as a haven for money laundering and tax evasion through the misuse of its vaunted banking secrecy. Authorities have set up police units and task forces to crack down on fraud, bribery and other financial crimes and to hunt for so-called dictator assets. The government also has signed deals with other nations to provide greater assistance to foreign tax authorities seeking information on their citizens’ accounts.

The report provided only a few specific details about a small number of cases. Among the cases highlighted by the report:

— A bank opened the safe deposit box of a foreign client who hadn’t paid his rental fees, discovering an unusually large number of rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches, watches, silver coins and other valuables.

— Another bank began monitoring transfers from Africa to offshore accounts that a foreign client said came from the sale of protective vests, but turned out to be from tanks and high-caliber weapons. The bank began to doubt undated contracts with an African defense ministry and other documents.

— One bank, after consulting with Swiss authorities and checking media reports, concluded the deposits that a South Asian couple had ascribed to commodity futures taken out on behalf of clients may have come from kickbacks that private companies paid to the husband for handing out government-backed agricultural loans.

Swiss federal police forwarded prosecutors 85 percent of the cases in 2012 so that they would press charges. But more than 40 percent of the 8,251 cases since 2003 are still pending, and more than half were either dismissed or suspended. Barely 4.5 percent have resulted in verdicts, the figures show.

One of the terrorist-financing cases in 2012 involved 7.45 million francs ($7.8 million) and accounted for nearly all of the money that police investigated in connected with suspected terrorists, the Swiss federal police office reported.

None of the suspects was on any official terror list, said the annual report by the police’s Money Laundering Reporting Office.

Probes by the police office led prosecutors to open 13 terror financing cases connected to money laundering, membership in a criminal organization or other offenses, the report said. One of the cases has since been suspended.

Of the 15 terror cases, the money sent by banks, asset managers and a money transmitter went to eight Russians, six Lithuanians and one American. Half the clients sending the money were from Switzerland; the others were from Cyprus, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Though the overall number of money-laundering cases was high in 2012, the police said, they were not characterized by any exceptional political circumstances like the political upheaval in 2011 that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Three involved the suspected misappropriation of foreign public funds, police said, while two were connected to suspected document forgery and fraud and one concerned an alleged crime group from Asia.

Most of the cases were initially reported by a financial intermediary — banks, credit card companies, casinos, currency exchanges and others — or were based on newspaper reports or information from other third parties such as financial compliance databases.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

David Simpson (left) and Scott Murphy.
Port of Everett candidates spar over transparency

An incumbent, David Simpson, is challenged by Everett City Councilmember Scott Murphy.

Rendering of the new terminal that Propeller Airports plans to build at Paine Field in Everett. The terminal, which will serve the general aviation community, will replace Castle & Cooke Aviation's existing building at the Snohomish County-owned airport. (Propeller Airports LLC)
Propeller Airports to acquire Castle & Cooke at Paine Field

Propeller, which owns the nearby passenger terminal, plans a new complex for private aviation.

FILE - In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a sign at the headquarters for the Washington state Employment Security Department is shown at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington state's rush to get unemployment benefits to residents who lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak left it vulnerable to criminals who made off with hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington’s unemployment rate in September was 4.9%

Employers added 17,600 jobs last month, a 7.3% increase over August.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alaska Airlines stalls plan for extra flights in Everett

Business has been sluggish, but the airline says it will offer 12 flights a day at Paine Field in the new year.

Hillside homes in Mukilteo are seen from the ferry line on Oct. 20. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate after Boeing announced it would terminate workers who do not comply on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Some Boeing workers protest in Everett over vaccine mandate

The Boeing Company announced earlier this week that its workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
Former Boeing test pilot pleads not guilty in 737 Max case

He’s the first person to be charged with a crime in connection with the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.

FILE - In this March 14, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. Relatives of some of the passengers who died in the crash will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, by seeking a reversal of government orders that let Boeing 737 Max jets fly again.  (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

He’s accused of giving the FAA false information about systems that played a role in two deadly crashes.

Top (L-R): Kim Daughtry, Steve Ewing. Bottom (L-R): Gary Petershagen, Marcus Tageant.
Developers court Lake Stevens council incumbents with over $20K

Over half of the campaign dollars for four candidates came from people tied to real estate or property development.

Traffic drives in view of a massive Boeing Co. production plant, where images of jets decorate the hangar doors, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing says workers must get the COVID vaccine by Dec. 8

“Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment,” says an internal company presentation.

The Boeing 737 Max 10 airplane landing at Boeing Field in Seattle on June 18. (Chona Kasinger / Bloomberg)
Boeing ramps up 737 Max but 787 deliveries are still blocked

Boeing last month maintained its steady trickle of sales as it navigates the aviation downturn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Carpenters strike ends with new contract and a $10 raise

Roughly 500 union members were working on projects in Snohomish County. It was among the largest strikes in 18 years.