Deiss pledges tougher action against terrorist funds

Joseph Deiss (right) and Carl Minder, president of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Italy Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss has said that Switzerland will not tolerate any abuse of its financial system by terrorists seeking to move or launder money.

This content was published on October 16, 2001 - 23:27

Speaking in the northern Italian city of Milan, he said Switzerland was determined to take all necessary measures to prevent its financial centre from being used as a channel for financing terrorist attacks in other countries.

He added that it was not possible to be a leader in financial matters without being a leader in tracking down illegal activities.

"This is why the Swiss financial centre cannot afford just to meet international standards in combating financial crime, it must go beyond them, and Switzerland must be a driving force."

Deiss said that in addition to the existing measures against terrorism, organised crime and money laundering, Switzerland has launched three initiatives at the international level to counter more efficiently financial flows of criminal origin.

The first initiative is aimed at improving the fight against money laundering. Deiss said Switzerland's "know your customer" rules were working well, but that "banks' customer identification procedures must focus more sharply on the actual economic beneficiary than on the customer".

Deiss said a second initiative was intended to improve the effectiveness of financial sanctions against states which sponsor terrorism. A third was directed at improving international cooperation when dealing with illegal assets held by political figures.

Deiss was in Milan to promote Switzerland as a financial centre, and made clear his frustration that the country was repeatedly singled out for harbouring assets of dubious origin.

"Undoubtedly, there is a maze of misconceptions regarding Swiss banking secrecy, in particular the supposedly anonymous numbered accounts. The plain fact is, there are no anonymous accounts in Switzerland," he said.

Deiss also raised the issue of customs fraud, in particular cigarette smuggling, which costs many states millions in lost tax revenue.

"Switzerland has in the past been criticised - especially in the Italian media - on the grounds that some of these unlawful practices are organised and carried out by persons living in Switzerland. I can assure you that Switzerland has absolutely no interest in allowing its territory to be used for such activities," he said.

"For this reason, we are willing to seek solutions with the European Union and its member states to combat fraud in goods' movements," he added.

Deiss gave his speech at the Centro Svizzero (Swiss Centre) in Milan, which is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. A Swiss business hub for Italy was also officially inaugurated on Monday, with the aim of further promoting the strong close economic ties between Switzerland and Italy.

Italy is Switzerland's fourth most important trading partner, with Swiss exports totalling SFr10.5 billion in 2000 and imports from Italy worth SFr13 billion.

by Robert Brookes in Milan

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