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Swiss banks implicated in Italian money laundering scandal

An Italian company has allegedly laundered around SFr800 million worth of dirty money through Swiss banks and financial institutions.

So far, the Italian police have arrested ten people and premises in Switzerland have been searched.

Financial institutions in Zurich, Geneva and Lugano are believed to have been involved in the money laundering before the end of 1999.

The affair involves an entrepreneur from Naples who ran an import-export company, Italgrani, dealing in cereals.

Using several offshore companies, Franco Ambrosio allegedly laundered SFr800 million which were withdrawn from company accounts before Italgrani was declared bankrupt in October 1999.

The Swiss head of two companies based in Zurich and Zug, Itex Itagrani and Galaxia Maritime, was involved in part of the transactions.

Those companies issued false invoices for material that was never delivered. Italgrani then used various banks to transfer payments to Swiss accounts.

During the transfers, the banks unknowingly contributed to laundering the illegal funds.

Because Ambrosio was the director of Itex - which is currently being put into liquidation - and was de facto the head of both Swiss-based groups, the money went straight back into his pocket.

The Neapolitan entrepreneur and his accomplices are suspected by the State Prosecutor's Office in Naples of having set up a vast network of companies in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and other tax havens to launder dirty money.

The men are being charged for false book keeping, fraudulent bankruptcy and money laundering.

Last week, Italian police carried out ten arrests in connection with the affair. Bern said the Italian authorities had asked for judicial assistance initially in May 1999, and then again in February 2000.

Several premises in Switzerland were subsequently searched.

The Lugano branch of Anker Bank was among the institutions used by Ambrosio to transfer the money.

Anker, which is fully owned by the Cantonal Bank of Geneva, specialises in private asset management, has some 7,000 clients and is headquartered in Zurich.

Other banks misused by Ambrosio are Deutsche Bank and Banque de Depôt et Gestion.

Italian investigators are reportedly now focusing their attention on a Geneva-based financial institution, Novafin Financière.

Representatives of Italgrani allegedly founded it in May 1989. It has a capital base of SFr5 million.

The Italian authorities are trying to re-trace the route the funds took in a bid to try to recuperate at least half of the SFr800 million that were laundered.

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