Switzerland should get tougher on money-laundering, says report

Refined gold bars have their origins monitored, but purchase of raw materials for smelting can slip through the net. Keystone / Martin Ruetschi

Swiss legislation is lagging behind in the fight against money laundering, and “seldom anticipates developments at international level”, the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO) has warned.

This content was published on August 30, 2022

SFAO audits have “revealed weaknesses and, hence, financial and reputational risks for the Swiss authorities,” the office said in a reportExternal link released on Monday.

The SFAO points particularly to the slowness of courts dealing with economic crimes cases and “the low dissuasive effect of criminal sanctions and legal costs”, since companies pay a maximum amount of CHF5 million ($5.2 million).

It also calls on authorities that detect anomalies to improve their reporting to the Money Laundering Reporting OfficeExternal link (MROS). This is a federal body responsible for receiving and analysing suspicious activity reports in connection with money laundering, terrorist financing, and money of criminal origin, and forwarding them to the law enforcement agencies if necessary.

The SFAO report points to real estate as a sector where more surveillance is needed. The real estate sector is still an attractive place to introduce funds of illegal origin into the legal financial circuit, it says.

Critics cited in SFAO audits also pointed to loopholes in the commodities sector, particularly the purchase of materials for smelting, which is partially excluded from the monitoring of raw materials origins. Control is currently limited to verification of the trade in already refined gold bars.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it shared the SFAO’s concerns. It stressed that challenges are changing as a result of current events like the war in Ukraine, and called for fundamental reflection on whether the legal framework surrounding the sequestration of assets is a sufficient solution.

Updated law

Switzerland will update its anti-money laundering laws from the start of next year. 

A second batch of revisions includes new controls on the purchase of precious metal scrap and will empower the Central Office for Precious Metals Control with anti-money laundering duties.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international body tasked with combating global money laundering, will conduct a fresh analysis of Switzerland from 2024. This will result in a fifth country report of Switzerland, outlining the progress it has made in tackling money laundering.

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