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Finance ministry unveils measures to tackle money laundering crisis

Peter Siegenthaler outlined measures to improve the workings of the Money Laundering Control Authority


The finance ministry is to overhaul money laundering controls in a bid to restore confidence in its ability to crack down on illicit financial dealings. The move follows a series of high-level resignations.

The ministry said on Wednesday it planned to upgrade the status of the Money Laundering Control Authority and significantly boost its staff.

The director of the federal finance administration, Peter Siegenthaler, said it would also take steps to help the Authority cope with a huge backlog of cases.

The measures come three weeks after four of the Authority's six officials announced they would quit by the end of the year.

Their departure follows a wave of resignations among officials in the justice ministry responsible for registering suspected cases of money laundering.

The crisis in the two offices prompted warnings that Switzerland could face renewed international pressure unless it proved it was able to apply its new anti-money laundering laws.

He also said part of the problem was that many financial institutions had waited until the end of a two-year deadline in July this year to register with the Money Laundering Control Authority.

He said 550 requests had been made and not a single one had been completed. A special task force is to be set up to help process the cases over the next two years.

Another difficulty has been the unwillingness of self-regulatory bodies to comply with the 1998 money laundering law. The law extends controls from banks to the "para-banking" sector, which includes all organisations handling money, such as lawyers and trustees.

"When the law was first made there was perhaps a misunderstanding of the complexity of the work to be done in the para-banking sector," Siegenthaler told swissinfo.

Siegenthaler said an independent advisory body would help clarify any differences of interpretation. He also said efforts would be made to improve ties between the Authority and the self-regulatory bodies with the aim of drawing up clear guidelines for self-regulation.

"But we are front-runners in anti-money laundering measures, "he said, "and when you are at the head of the course you can have more problems then when you are trailing behind".

swissinfo with agencies

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