A Swiss watchdog group has called for tougher action to stamp out corruption, which it calls an "invisible tax" that unfairly penalises the poor.
According to Transparency Switzerland (TS), crime and corruption globally cost up to SFr2,600 billion ($1,500 billion) each year, based on estimates from the International Monetary Fund.
In a speech at the International Centre for Moral Re-Armament in Caux, Switzerland, Philippe Lévy, the organisation's chairman, said it is time to ensure that conventions designed to crack down on corruption are implemented.
Corruption and organised crime are now occurring on a global level and they need to be fought on a global level, Lévy told swissinfo.
The watchdog group says many businesses are harmed by financial crime. Serious fraud affects 43 per cent of European companies, according to a new survey, but few companies take the necessary steps to prevent or detect it, Levy said.
"In the old days people believed that corruption was something that happened only in less developed countries or countries in transition. In the meantime we have found out, including in Switzerland, that this is not true, and that even in the most developed countries corruption, organised crime and money laundering exist."
According to Lévy, the application of adequate laws, even where they exist, is easier said than done. He points out that not one business or individual has even been accused of corrupting a foreign civil servant in any of the 34 countries that signed the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-bribery convention in 1999.
With regard to Switzerland, TS says it is actively campaigning to make more people aware of the potential for financial crime in both the public and private sectors. Proof of the need for greater awareness came last month when TI announced that the Swiss had slipped down one place to 12th in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which monitors about 90 countries.
The report said it is "regrettable" that Switzerland did not feature in the list's top 10. "Corruption should not be underestimated in Switzerland," Levy said.
There was further grim news for the Swiss earlier this month when Jean-Luc Vez, director of the Federal Office for Police, declared that Switzerland's systems for combating money laundering were not working properly. His comments came on the same day that the Money Laundering Reporting Office revealed that there had not been a single conviction for the offence since the government tightened money-laundering laws in 1998.
While praising the banks for their record in cooperating with the reporting office, Vez also criticised law firms, insurance companies and exchange bureaus for not doing enough to monitor and report suspicious activities. Lévy fears similar concerns will be raised when TI delivers its Global Corruption Report in the autumn.
"According to international experts, the law which was introduced in Switzerland three years ago is considered as one, if not the best, piece of money laundering legislation in the world," Vez said.
"Where we still have problems - and that might give opportunity for criticism - is that implementation is obviously difficult, perhaps less vis à vis the banks, but with other agents who are also involved in these money and investment activities.
"We are hopeful that this is only a temporary difficulty and that we will be able to have a system which works well. But I would also add that other countries also still have some progress to make."
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