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Money laundering "not impossible" in Switzerland

Switzerland is no longer the haven for money laundering it was in the past

(swissinfo.ch)

Criminals may still be laundering ill-gotten gains in Switzerland, according to the head of Switzerland's Money Laundering Control Authority (MLCA).

However, Dina Balleyguier told swissinfo that laws introduced in recent years had made it far more difficult for people to launder money in Switzerland.

"Absolute confidence is never possible because we have no figures whatsoever on the real cases of money laundering," Balleyguier said.

"But I would say [that] with the control activity we have put in place, it's become more and more difficult for money launderers to have their laundering done in Switzerland without being discovered."

Balleyguier made the comments after releasing the first-ever annual report of the MLCA, which forms part of a network of government surveillance bodies, designed to halt flows of illegal money through Switzerland.

The MLCA is charged with supervising what are known as "financial intermediaries in the non-banking sector", including financial advisors, commodity traders and other brokers.

Know your customer

Balleyguier said the MLCA's job was to ensure financial institutions conducted due diligence and "know your customer" checks on all their clients.

Balleyguier said the authority also ensured those financial institutions reported any illegal activities to the Swiss authorities.

In that sense, the MLCA does not directly pursue cases of money laundering. Rather, it ensures that so-called "self regulatory organisations" - which oversee financial industries - oblige their members to maintain standards under Switzerland's official money laundering laws.

During 2002, Balleyguier said there were several instances where the MLCA had been forced to sanction financial institutions for not conducting proper due diligence procedures.

Several cases had been passed on to the Swiss authorities.

To increase transparency, Balleyguier said the MLCA had decided to list the names of affiliated and licensed financial intermediaries on the Internet.

Hiding Saddam's money

Asked whether high-profile individuals, such as Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, could still launder money in Switzerland, Balleyguier said, "sure he could".

"But I'm convinced that no financial institution in Switzerland would knowingly, having done its due diligence [checks], accept Saddam Hussein as a customer," she added.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

Money facts

Over the past 15 months the MLCA has ordered the closure of ten financial institutions over illegal activities.
It also imposed 124 fines and reported four cases to judicial authorities.
The body, which supervises financial institutions from the non-banking sector, said it had been able to reduce the backlog of pending cases and increased staff to 25 people.

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money summary

The MLCA says that recent laws make it harder for criminals to launder money in the country.

But the lack of statistics means it cannot be said that money laundering does not take place.

Presenting its first annual report, the MLCA said its job was to ensure financial institutions conducted due diligence- and "know your customer" checks on all their clients.

In 2002 several banks were sanctioned for not carrying out adequate checks.

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