Bin Laden linked to Swiss bank accounts

Osama bin Laden (right) with Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video which was broadcast in 2002 Keystone

Swiss authorities have found evidence linking Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s alleged number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Swiss bank accounts in the 1990s.

This content was published on December 4, 2003 minutes

The discovery is the result of ongoing investigations into whether terrorist attacks have been funded or organised from within Switzerland.

Andrea Sadecky, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed a report in Thursday’s “Le Temps” newspaper that bin Laden was the beneficiary of an account at a Zurich branch of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS.

The paper said the account was opened in 1990 by members of bin Laden’s family - a prominent business dynasty in Saudi Arabia - with each of his father’s 55 children named as beneficiaries.

Le Temps claimed the account was used during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s to protect family assets in the event of an invasion of Saudi Arabia by the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

It was closed by UBS in 1997 because it had been inactive for six years.


UBS, however, has denied that the al-Qaeda leader was ever a customer of the bank.

“UBS has never met him, he has never made a withdrawal and the bank has never accepted his money,” said Christoph Meier, a spokesman for the bank.

Meier added that the accountholders withdrew most of the funds in 1991 and that the bank closed the account in 1997 because it had been inactive for six years.

He said that the account was “totally irrelevant” to the worldwide hunt for al-Qaeda's assets launched in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Right-hand man

Le Temps said the Swiss investigation also discovered that al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s number two, held an account at an unnamed Geneva bank between 1989 and 1993.

The Egyptian transferred the SFr50,000 (then $33,000) balance to Britain. The British authorities have so far not replied to Switzerland’s request for help in tracking the money.

The newspaper also claimed that al-Zawahiri travelled to Switzerland several times during the 1990s, often using a false identity, including one occasion in 1991 when he spoke at a Geneva Islamic centre.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office would not confirm this.

The investigation is part of an ongoing crackdown in Switzerland on funding for terrorist networks, particularly al-Qaeda.

So far, Switzerland has blocked around SFr34 million ($26.5 million) in bank accounts suspected by the United States of being used to finance al-Qaeda’s activities.

The Swiss authorities say they have found no evidence so far that the country was used as a hub for terror groups.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed that Osama bin Laden was the beneficiary of an account held at Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS.

The account was active between 1990 and 1997.

UBS denies any direct link between the account and bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

According to the French-language daily, "Le Temps", bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had an account with a bank in Geneva between 1989 and 1993.

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