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Finance minister worried over resignations of anti-money laundering officers

Finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, believes the Swiss system to track dirty money works well


Switzerland's finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, on Monday expressed his concern at the wave of resignations that have hit the Money Laundering Control Authority. Despite the departures, he said the Swiss system to track dirty money functioned well.

At the weekend, four of the finance ministry's six officials charged with combating money laundering within financial institutions said they would quit at the end of November or December.

Analysts say frustration is rife among officials because of the inadequate means at their disposal to fight the crime. "Of course I am worried if some things do not function as expected," Villiger said.

The finance minister said he was expecting new structural measures to be drawn up quickly, which would enhance the powers of the anti-money laundering authorities.

Ultimately though, Villiger said, personnel issues fall within the remit of the director of the Federal Administration for Finance, Peter Siegenthaler.

Villiger said he saw no need to change any existing legislation: "I do not think that it is necessary to modify the laws which have been in place since April 1998," he said. The law requires bankers and other financial personnel to expose and block suspect funds.

On Sunday, Dieter Leutwyler, a ministry spokesman said an internal dispute within the Money Laundering Control Authority, reportedly linked to procedural matters, had led to the resignations of the four officials.

Leutwyler said personal matters and a strong job market were the main reasons behind the resignations. He said some employees had accepted jobs in the private sector, which is known to pay far higher salaries.

He added that the high exposure the anti-money laundering jobs bring, and the heavy workload, were also likely to have been contributing factors.

"There is a lot to be done," he said, "and we are understaffed." There are reportedly about 500 money laundering dossiers that have yet to be dealt with.

The resignations were not the first among those charged with fighting money laundering in Switzerland.

Two top officials within the justice ministry, Daniel Thelesklaf and Mark Van Thiel, stepped down recently.

They accused the government of failing to come up with a clear strategy for dealing with the problem of money laundering. The two had been trying unsuccessfully to persuade the government to give their office more power.

In Switzerland, the prosecution of money laundering cases is done at a cantonal level.

If a bank, or other financial institution, is suspicious of a transaction, it is required to inform the Federal Money Laundering Reporting Office in Berne.

Thelesklaf and Van Thiel were the heads of that office.

Villiger said the impact the resignations will have on Switzerland's image abroad should not be underestimated. But he said Switzerland's efforts to clamp down on money laundering had received international praise.

swissinfo with agencies

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