A French parliamentary committee has condemned Switzerland for not taking a tough enough line against money laundering. A strongly worded report, issued on Wednesday, accuses the authorities of professing to tackle the problem while maintaining links to international financial crime.
"Although Switzerland gives the impression of waging a tough war on money laundering, the results obtained and the resources committed by the federal authorities show the country is lagging well behind its European Union neighbours," the report said.
The 200-page text describes Switzerland as "a predator in international finance", and accuses it of having enjoyed "a profitable neutrality", particularly during the Nazi era.
It says Switzerland is "associated with international financial crime" and that the authorities only act against money laundering under international pressure. Banks play little part in fighting the problem, it adds.
The report also denounces "the slowness of the Swiss financial institutions to react, the culture of secrecy... and the lack of encouragement given to those fighting money laundering".
"If Switzerland is genuinely committed to dismantling basic money laundering... it will have to strengthen legislation and impose tougher controls," it adds.
The document says Switzerland has no desire to be constrained by European Union legislation. "By marginalising itself, Switzerland is making it more difficult to realise its international ambitions - UN membership by 2003 and EU membership by 2008," it concludes.
Reacting to the report, the Swiss finance ministry said it "rejected any accusation of laxness" in the fight against money laundering. In a statement, it said the French report contradicted the findings of international organisations, which had attested to the country's high standards.
"Switzerland is determined in its efforts to combat financial crime and money laundering in particular," the statement said.
"As a member of the Financial Action Task Force, it was among the first countries to place the banking and insurance sectors under supervision and put preventive and far-reaching mechanisms into place in the non-banking sector."
The statement added that the banking sector had been subject to state anti-money laundering mechanisms since 1991 and 70 per cent of cases reported as suspicious were followed up. "All of which serves to demonstrate that combating money laundering is a political priority reinforced by concrete measures."
swissinfo with agencies