The Swiss prosecutor’s office has opened criminal proceedings against UBS over the bank’s alleged ties with a Malaysian politician suspected of laundering money derived from corrupt timber logging operations in North Borneo.
The case has been opened in response to complaints by the rainforest advocacy group Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), which accuses UBS of having breached its due diligence duties in managing its relationship with Sabah’s chief minister, Musa Aman, who controls logging in the region.
Aman has been chief minister of Sabah since 2003 and is the brother of Malaysia's foreign minister, Anifah Aman. He is accused of having laundered over $90 million (SFr86 million) of corruptly obtained funds through a number of bank accounts held with UBS in Hong Kong and Zurich.
The prosecutor’s office confirmed on Friday it had opened a criminal investigation into the allegations on August 29, but declined to provide further information.
In April 2012, the Swiss Federal Justice Office confirmed that Switzerland had given legal assistance to Hong Kong authorities over Musa Aman's ties with UBS.
In a statement provided to swissinfo.ch, UBS said it would cooperate fully with authorities.
"UBS applies the highest standards worldwide in the fight against money laundering and corruption. UBS is under an obligation to report the discovery of criminal proceeds and suspicious activities to the relevant anti-money laundering authorities," the statement said.
"In this matter, UBS has complied with these obligations already several years ago in several countries, prior to the commencement of various investigations. Ever since, UBS has been fully cooperating in a number of investigations relating to this matter. We understand that UBS itself has not been the subject of such investigations."
According to BMF, an associate of Aman organised large cash payments from timber companies with logging interests in Sabah to UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong. Payments were made from the same accounts to Aman's sons in Australia and a senior forestry official from Sabah.
Corruption is one of the main drivers of deforestation in Sabah and Sarawak, the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, BMF claims.