Biggest ever money laundering case to be re-opened

Josef Oberholzer, former deputy director of the Swiss Bank Corporation, will come under the spotlight of the Zurich High Court for a second time Keystone Archive

The biggest money laundering case in Swiss banking history is to be re-opened. The Federal Court in Lausanne has overturned a verdict by a lower court which acquitted a top Swiss Bank Corporation official of laundering drug money worth $50 million.

This content was published on December 9, 2000 - 12:22

Josef Oberholzer, the former deputy director of the corporation, was cleared by the Zurich High Court on June 14 in 1999 on charges of money laundering. The court ruled in his favour because the drug crimes, which were the alleged source of the money, were statute-barred under Swiss law because they fell outside of time limitations.

However, Oberholzer now faces a renewed trial after Federal prosecutors successfully filed a complaint with the Federal Court. Judges at the Federal Court have recognised that the drugs crimes, which had taken place in the United States, are not statute-barred, under Swiss or US law.

Last year, Oberholzer stood accused of laundering "dirty" money for a Colombian woman, Sheila Arana de Nasser, and her husband.

It was alleged that from 1978 onwards, when Oberholzer supposedly opened two bank accounts for the Colombian couple, around $50 million dollars from drug deals passed through the bank. Yet the real crime was committed in 1993, according to prosecutors, when he allegedly transferred SFr7 million to other bank accounts.

Money laundering became a criminal offence under Swiss law in 1990.

It is thought Oberholzer was rewarded with around $1.084 million from his Colombian partners between 1981 and 1992.

The case was taken to the courts in 1997 for the first time. However, Oberholzer was let off lightly by a Zurich district court on a technical detail and fined a sum of SFr1.6 million.

Unhappy with the outcome of the trial, canton Zurich and state prosecutors appealed to Zurich's High Court to have the case heard there.

The Federal Court said that Oberholzer would certainly have to pay back his illegal earnings of just over a million dollars. However, it is now up to the Zurich High Court to reconsider charges of money laundering.

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