Government rejects French criticism over money laundering

French parliamentarians, Vincent Peillon (left) and Arnaud Montebourg said Swiss efforts to combat money laundering were a "facade" Keystone

The government has rejected a French parliamentary report, which condemned Switzerland for not doing enough to combat money laundering.

This content was published on February 21, 2001 minutes

Reacting to the report, published on Wednesday, the Swiss finance ministry said it "rejected any accusation of laxness" in its 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 efforts to combat financial crime.

"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."

In the report, a French parliamentary committee condemned Switzerland for not taking a tough enough line against money laundering. It accused 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 French report said.

In response, the Swiss finance ministry said 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."

The 200-page text described Switzerland as "a predator in international finance", and accuses it of having enjoyed "a profitable neutrality", particularly during the Nazi era.

It said 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 added.

But Michel Dérobert, general secretary of the Swiss Private Bankers Association, condemned the report as an exaggeration of the truth. "We have a very tough line on money laundering. The presentation of the facts in this report are biased, inaccurate and incomplete," he told swissinfo.

"There are weaknesses in all countries, but Switzerland has made a tremendous effort and if there is one area where we will not accept this criticism, it is precisely the area of money laundering," added Dérobert.

The report denounced "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 added.

James Nason, of the Swiss Bankers Association, responded to the report by criticising its main author, Arnaud Montebourg. "My overall impression is that Mr Montebourg and his team came to Switzerland with their eyes shut," he said, "with the sole purpose of confirming their own prejudices."

The document concluded that 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."

swissinfo with agencies

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