Money laundering damages Swiss reputation

Dina Balleyguier pictured with Peter Siegenthaler of the Finance Ministry Keystone

The new head of Switzerland's money laundering control authority says the country's reputation as a haven for dirty money will be difficult to change.

This content was published on October 18, 2001 minutes

Dina Balleyguier, who takes up her new job this week, told swissinfo that high profile cases of money laundering, such as those relating to the funds of the late Nigerian leader Sani Abacha, had damaged Switzerland's image.

"The problem is that everyone remembers cases like Abacha," said Balleyguier. "And it will be hard to convince the international community that our banks and financial intermediaries are really vigilant now."

The 37-year-old lawyer worked formerly for the Federal Banking Commission, but said she was keen to take on the challenge at the money laundering control authority.

Lack of support

Balleyguier starts her new job following months of difficulty at the control authority. Her predecessor, Niklaus Huber, resigned claiming he had not received the political and financial support he needed to do his job properly.

But Balleyguier is undaunted by the past controversy. "I asked specifically for extra staff, and I got them," she said. "And I have been promised the support I need, right up to the finance minister himself, if necessary."

Switzerland's money laundering control authority is charged with monitoring all financial intermediaries in Switzerland, to ensure that they comply with the legislation on money laundering.

Balleyguier said she was aware that many of the small private financial institutions were not used to government attention.

"It will take time,' she said, 'but they will just have to get used to it. They will have to open their books and let us look at them, and we will expect them to come to Bern and answer questions."

New agenda

Balleyguier comes to the job at a time when Switzerland is under renewed pressure to combat financial crime, amid the global search for terrorist funds, which started after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

"It has certainly changed the agenda. We have more work to do, and even more companies to investigate, but it hasn't changed fundamentally what we are doing."

Unfair accusations

Balleyguier says she was unhappy when British finance minister, Gordon Brown, pointed the finger at Switzerland last month, saying it was a place where terrorists might have deposited their funds.

"I was certainly not pleased. I think most financial intermediaries, and certainly all the banks, are very conscious of the risk to their reputation of accepting money that could be laundered."

She added: "Saying that terrorist money could be in Switzerland without any proof is not very fair."

Nevertheless, Balleyguier accepts that such accusations against Switzerland are likely to continue for some years to come.

Years to clean up image

"I think it will take many years to clean up our image," she said. "I'm afraid our reputation is founded on old stories, and they are not so easily forgotten.

"Even in five years' time nobody will trust the Swiss authorities when they say they have found no evidence of money laundering. Everybody will just say we are not looking hard enough."

Despite her pessimism about Switzerland's image, Balleyguier has faith in the Swiss banks and the other financial institutions.

"I'm truly convinced that the whole financial community is truly fighting money laundering," she said, "and that no one wants to accept a money launderer as a client."

"Perhaps in the future" she continued, "others will be convinced of this too, Let's hope so."

by Imogen Foulkes

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