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Switzerland freezes Montesinos bank accounts

Vladimiro Montesinos is accused of salting away millions in Switzerland


Switzerland has frozen the assets of Peru's fugitive former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, following allegations that he stashed away $50 million (SFr88.5 million) in laundered money into Swiss bank accounts.

The Swiss Justice Ministry has confirmed that three Swiss banking institutions, namely Leumi Ie-Israel, Crédit Agricole Indosuez and Fibi Bank have frozen five accounts linked to Montesinos.

Spokesman Pascal Gossin told swissinfo that Montesinos is the "beneficial owner" of some of the accounts and the direct account holder of others.

The accounts were blocked on October 5 by judicial authorities in Zurich following banks' reports of suspected money laundering. Under Swiss law, the banks are required to disclose any suspicious transactions within five days to the authorities.

Gossin said the Swiss ambassador in Lima recently informed the Peruvian government about the accounts and urged the the Peruvian justice minister, Alberto Bustamante, to open a probe into the affair.

Bustamante said neither he nor the president, Alberto Fujimori, were aware the accounts existed before the Swiss informed the government.

He confirmed that the case could involve "money laundering using these unknown accounts." A Peruvian special investigator, Jose Carlos Ugaz, has been appointed to look into the allegations and to shed light on the former spy chief's "presumed criminal activities."

As part of a cooperative investigation, Gossin said the Peruvian government is expected to ask the Swiss government for assistance and information about the accounts.

In turn, a Swiss judge will ask the Peruvian authorities for "information relating to the offences committed by [Montesinos] in Peru."

The case was made public just hours after Peru's Congress approved constitutional changes on Thursday to cut short Fujimori's presidency, clearing the way for elections on April 8.

Approval of the amendments was a major step towards resolving a crisis that began in mid-September when a bribery scandal, involving Montesinos, forced Fujimori to announce that he would step down and call new elections.

Montesinos fled the country after a video was released showing him apparently bribing a newly-elected congressman. But, on October 23, he returned after a failed asylum bid in Panama.

Last week, Fujimori personally led a manhunt to find the former spy chief but Montesinos remains in hiding.

Since rising to power when Fujimori took office in 1990, Montesinos has faced allegations of arms dealing, associating with drug traffickers and directing death squads.

In another development, Peru's attorney-general, Blanca Nelida Colan, has resigned. Correspondents said she was widely believed to be one of the key allies of Montesinos.

swissinfo with agencies

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