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‘Global laundromat’ Laundered Russian money ‘went through Swiss banks’

The investigative report said $608 million of the laundered money transited via 45 Swiss banks or foreign banks with Swiss branches.

(Keystone)

Billions of dollars of “dirty money” have reportedly been moved out of Russia to Europe and elsewhere via hundreds of banks, including several in Switzerland, in a vast money-laundering scheme. An investigative journalism group based its claims on financial records.

According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)external link, between January 2011 and October 2014 over CHF20.8 billion ($20.9 billion) was pumped out of Russia by suspected criminals in Russia via accounts in Latvia and Moldova at banks notorious for their exposure to money-laundering scams.

The trail has led investigators to 732 banks in 96 countries and a network of offshore companies, mostly registered in Britain, Cyprus and New Zealand.

Documents shared by the OCCRP with media partners in 32 countries, including the Swiss magazine Beobachter, reveal details of 70,000 banking transactionexternal links, including 1,920 that went through British banks, 373 via US banks and 1,050 via 45 Swiss banks or foreign banks with Swiss branches.

Banks such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Bank of China, Bank of America, Danske Bank and Emirates NBD Bank all ended up with tainted money, OCCRP said.

Swiss banks allegedly processed over $608 million (CHF604 million) from the scheme and half of the money ended up on the bank accounts of Russians, Beobachter said on Monday.external link

The Swiss banks include the Geneva-based Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique, which received around half of this amount, according to OCCRP. Others included the Swiss branch of HSBC, UBS, the Swiss bank of the Royal Branch of Scotland, and the Swiss branch of Deutsche Bank, it added.

No comment

Beobachter said Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique refused to comment on the matter, while other banks referred to banking secrecy rules.

Its report said that numerous banks had contacted the Swiss authorities over suspicious transactions at the beginning of 2015. However, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office told the magazine that “no proceedings or legal assistance" were underway. The Federal Police Office refused to comment, while the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) declared: “We are aware of the issue. We are in contact with certain banks as part of our supervisory activities. We do not comment on the details or the names of individual banks.”

The Guardian newspaper in Britain contacted numerous banks implicated. None of them challenged the authenticity of the data, but they all insisted they had strict anti-money-laundering policies.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”. But the task is difficult as the owners of offshore entities that moved money through the banks often kept their identities secret, the report noted.

Around 500 people are thought to have been involved in the money-laundering operation. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB.

Investigations are reported to be continuing in Moldova, Latvia, Britain and Russia.

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