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Germany to tighten Swiss border controls before euro

Swiss authorities say they will not step up border controls.

The German government has announced it plans to tighten customs controls at the border with Switzerland ahead of the introduction of the euro, in a bid to prevent "dirty" money from being smuggled into its non-European Union neighbour.

In a statement, the German finance ministry said it fears the two-month changeover from national currencies will make it easier to transfer cash reserves back to the country of origin to change it into the new currency.

The German government said it would combat the increased risk of money laundering with “comprehensive, strengthened cash checks by customs – in the run-up to the introduction of euro cash, and particularly during the main phase of the changeover in January and February 2002.”

For its part, Switzerland will not step up border patrols despite being concerned about the risk of increased money laundering early next year, Hermann Kästli, from the Swiss Customs Office, told swissinfo.

According to Swiss law, suspicious financial transactions are investigated at the banking level, rather than at border crossings. “In exceptional cases where customs officials come across large sums of money, they can call in the police to investigate the matter there and then,” Kästli said.

However, Kästli added that Switzerland was looking into ways to prevent illicit cash from entering the country at the start of next year. “Yes, we are looking at this problem and we’re busy analysing the risks and deciding what measures should be taken,” he said.

Patrols near Basel

Last year, German customs officials carried out 2,745 checks for dirty money – a third of which were conducted at Germany’s border with Switzerland, the finance ministry said.

One border town where German police and customs authorities plan to step up controls is Weil am Rhein, a border town close to the Swiss city of Basel.

Roland Bähr, the head of customs controls in another nearby German town, Lörrach, reported increased incidents of trade in illicit cash and predicted that the currency changeover would provide a cover for those wishing to launder money.

Last year, German customs officials seized $4.5 million on suspicions of money laundering.

On January 1, 2002, Germany and 11 other EU member states will surrender their national currencies and adopt euro-dominated bills and coins.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR