Ticino banks under scrutiny in Russian money-laundering probe

A Geneva judge investigating the alleged embezzlement of loans made to Russia by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is focusing his attention on the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

This content was published on July 17, 2000 minutes

Reports in the Ticino press say the magistrate, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, ordered police to search and seize documents at a number of important Ticino banks.

Speaking to swissinfo, Kasper-Ansermet refused to go into details, but confirmed he had "conducted a number of investigations into banks in Ticino."

He said he would release more information once he had seen the results of his inquiries.

United States federal prosecutors say about $7 billion (SFr11.5 billion) of Russian money, some of it believed to be IMF loans, was laundered after passing through the Bank of New York.

According to the Ticino newspaper, La Regione, Kasper-Ansermet's inquiries in the canton are focusing on four transfers of funds, amounting to $4.8 billion. The paper says the money was transferred from the Bank of New York to the Frankfurt-based Ost-West Handelsbank, a subsidiary of the Russian central bank, on August 14, 1998.

From there, it was immediately forwarded to an unidentified Ticino bank, and the same day most of it was transferred to accounts in Sydney, London, the Bank of New York and a branch of Credit Suisse, whose location has not yet been established.

Kasper-Ansermet refused to discuss reports that he had asked the Ticino banks to freeze any suspicious assets.

However, he did complain of a lack of cooperation by the United States authorities investigating the funds transferred through the Bank of New York.

A former Bank of New York official, Lucy Edwards, has admitted to US Federal investigators that she helped the Russian mafia to launder money.

But despite these advances in the American investigation, Kasper-Ansermet says his requests for legal assistance have so far been ignored.

"I am very surprised that the Americans have not sent me any information in reply to my request for legal assistance, which dates from the end of January. I had hoped to get certain information which I still do not have," he said.

Kasper-Ansermet said he was still waiting for a reply from a similar request sent to the Russia authorities at the beginning of June. In May he also asked Russian prosecutors if he could question officials of the Russian central bank.

by Roy Probert

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