‘Switzerland failing to tackle money laundering’: Thelesklaf

The public examines some of the 25 luxury cars seized by canton Geneva during a money laundering probe into Teodoro Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's President - but such seizures are rare, according to Thelesklaf. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

The former head of Switzerland’s anti-money laundering office says the country is failing to pull its weight in the fight against large scale corruption. Daniel Thelesklaf is convinced that billions of dollars are still being laundered through Swiss banks, largely unchecked.

This content was published on September 21, 2020 - 12:15

Speaking to the Tages Anzeiger newspaper, Thelesklaf said: “Our entire set of instruments for combating money laundering is failing”. He accused Switzerland of lacking the political will to tackle the global problem.

Thelesklaf resigned as head of the Money Laundering Reporting Office Switzerland (MROS) in June without explanation. His comments come as the media site Buzzfeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released data from the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that revealed how criminals move dirty money around the world.

According to Swiss public broadcaster RTS, the data includes more than 2,000 transactions relating to Swiss banks, with $3.7 billion coming into the country and $4.2 billion leaving.

In his interview, Thelesklaf launched a scathing attack on Switzerland’s record. “When it comes to money laundering, Switzerland only ever implements the absolute minimum mandatory standards because of pressure from abroad.”

“The efficient fight against money laundering is only of secondary importance. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that you can't get anywhere in Switzerland.”

Swiss federal prosecutors launched a probe into Venezuelan money laundering last year. But Thelesklaf says such investigations are hindered by the need for suspected countries to cooperate – something they never do until a regime change.

He recommends a change to the legal code forcing suspected corrupt autocrats to prove that their money was obtained legally. Only then could Switzerland seize more than a fraction of suspected dirty assets, he argues.

In 2015, the cantons of Zurich, Geneva and Ticino seized CHF190 million ($208 million) out of CHF4.8 billion that banks reported as suspicious, he said. Since 2016, assets of between CHF12 billion and CHF17 billion have been reported annually in Switzerland.

Thelesklaf also complained that MROS is bogged down by a lack of IT sophistication which means most paperwork has to be processed manually. At the end of last year, some 6,000 reports amounting to several billion francs had yet to be processed as a result of IT inadequacies, he complained.

As a result of the combined weaknesses, Switzerland wards off only “a fraction” of laundered money that passes through its banks. This is a situation that Thelesklaf - who now advises Monaco on anti-money laundering strategy - describes as “untenable”.

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