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Government overhauls Money Laundering Control Authority

Dina Balleyguier, pictured here next to Peter Siegenthaler, has been appointed new head of the authority Keystone

The government has announced a complete overhaul of the office charged with combating money laundering. The office has been hit by a string of scandals this year, including the resignation of its director last June.

The Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, on Friday unveiled plans to reform the Money Laundering Control Authority, including the appointment of a new boss, Dina Balleyguier, who will take up her post in September.

Balleyguier replaces the former director of the authority, Niklaus Huber, who resigned in June complaining that his office was cash-starved, under-staffed and increasingly at odds with his paymasters in government. Correspondents say the latest shake-up vindicates some of Huber’s criticisms.

The finance ministry said at the time his departure was the result of “differences of opinion” with the head of the federal financial administration, Peter Siegenthaler.

The reforms include an increase in the number of staff at the authority, from 10 to 25, as of the start of September – all of whom will report directly to Balleyguier.

Improved market surveillance

Four new sub-divisions of the authority are also to be established to improve the surveillance of markets and to check that the para-banking sector, which is self-regulating, adheres to the rules.

Switzerland’s efforts to control money laundering have been beset by problems ever since the government implemented new a system of checks and balances to combat financial crime in 1998.

Huber’s departure from the Money Laundering Control Authority followed a string of other high-profile resignations at the Money Laundering Reporting Office, which handles suspicious transactions reported by banks. Two key figures, Daniel Thelesklaf and Mark Van Thiel, both left their posts last year, citing a lack of sufficient powers to fight financial crime.

The new boss, Balleyguier, 37, has been working since 1993 in the judicial section of the Federal Banking Commission and was in charge of bringing about legal proceedings against two banks who dealt with funds suspected to have been salted away by associates of the former Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha.

In 1999, Swiss authorities froze accounts containing SFr1.4 billion suspected to belong to Abacha and his cronies.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR