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Spotlight falls on Swiss efforts to combat money laundering

Expert Mark Pieth has called for more power for the money laundering watchdog


A leading Swiss expert on money laundering has called for the country's financial crimes watchdog to be given more power and personnel, following the resignations of its entire staff.

The comments were made to swissinfo by Mark Pieth, chairman of the working group on bribery for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and professor of criminal law at Basel University.

Pieth was referring to the Money Laundering Reporting Office in Berne, which has been in the spotlight because two of its senior staff resigned in August. The remaining two have since handed in their notice.

Pieth said the departures show that Switzerland has "a systematic problem in the approach of fighting money laundering". But he added that he didn't think the resignations "reflect an unwillingness or inability of Switzerland to fight money laundering".

The departures are said to have been brought about in part because of the office's lack of any real power.

The Reporting Office, which is part of the Federal Office for Police, has the job of acting as a relay and a filter between financial institutions and the prosecuting authorities.

"For a financial centre the size of Switzerland, four or five people are far too few to do this responsible job," Pieth told swissinfo.

"What they should do is not simply act as mail men, passing on information from one office to the next. They should do analytical work and determine whether criminal proceedings should be opened or whether they should liaise with foreign organisations with the same function," he added.

The Federal Office for Police says that four personnel with special knowledge of financial affairs will keep operations running until permanent staff can be found.

However, it is an open secret that it is hard to find qualified staff because of strong competition from the private sector.

The Swiss Bankers Association has said it regrets the departures. "We think the Office plays an important role and has done a good job since it was inaugurated. We think the people should be replaced as soon as possible," head of communications, Jean-Marc Felix, told swissinfo.

swissinfo with agencies

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