Transparency International has called on Switzerland to tighten its anti-money laundering legislation to prevent foreign public officials and business people from hiding the proceeds of crime and corruption behind opaque structures on its soil.
Executives of the anti-corruption organisation on Tuesday urged Switzerland to publicly register information on the beneficial ownership of limited liability companies, which often serve as a front for corrupt individuals. Bearer shares, which are still common in Switzerland, should also be abolished to improve transparency, the organisation said.
Switzerland has to tackle the issue of its shell companies, which are still denting the country’s image in the world, Transparency International said.
Bowing to international pressure, Switzerland has already started putting an end to its banking secrecy and now complies with many international standards on the exchange of financial information.
“Switzerland has come a long way, but despite all its efforts over the past months it has not really got any credit for it,” Cobus de Swardt, Transparency International’s managing director, told swissinfo.ch.
“This is an opportunity for Switzerland to be one of the first to take this step before it will have to bow to international pressure in a few years anyway.”
Transparency International’s campaign coincides with next week’s parliamentary debate over a bill regarding the implementation of recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body set up by the Group of Seven (G-7) in 1989 to combat money laundering.
Transparency International also asked the Swiss government to limit cash payments to purchase properties and luxury items to a maximum of CHF100,000 ($110,000), said Eric Martin, president of Transparency International Switzerland. These proposals are opposed by the House of Representatives.
Registering the beneficial ownership of legal entities will become a reality in the future anyway, de Swardt said. Still, Switzerland, which serves as a hub for the trade of commodities, precious metals and works of art, has an interest to come clean. More transparency is in the interest of the country, of the government and the individuals.
“You want to know who you are doing business with,” de Swardt said. “You don’t want to stay at a hotel or board a plane where the guests or passengers don’t have to register.”
By Chantal Britt, swissinfo.ch