Switzerland has received a glowing report from the United States for its efforts to combat terrorist funds.
The message was delivered to Bern by a top US treasury official, Jimmy Gurulé, who has been holding talks with the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, and members of the banking sector.
Gurulé, the US under-secretary in charge of combating terrorist financing, told a press conference in Bern that "The Swiss government has been at the forefront of international efforts to cooperate and support the US's strategy to dismantle the financial infrastructure of terrorist organisations including Al Qaeda."
He also refuted suggestions that Swiss banking secrecy might hinder efforts to track terrorist funds, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
"There is no instance that I can recall where the US has requested the support of the Swiss government and financial sector and the response has been: we'd like to help but we can't because our bank secrecy laws prevent us from doing so," Gurulé told swissinfo.
"Instead they have come forward in a very aggressive and supportive way to issue blocking orders against several individuals and block literally millions of dollars of assets."
Gurulé said Swiss banks' "know your customer rules" ensured that financial institutions were well prepared to respond to Washington's calls for assistance.
Likewise, Switzerland would have no trouble complying with the USA Patriot Act, which calls for enhanced bank due diligence and imposes tough sanctions for failure to identify sources of foreign assets.
Haven for dubious money
His comments were welcomed by the Swiss Bankers Association, which routinely has to defend its members from overseas criticism that Switzerland is a haven for ill-gotten gains.
"Gurulé confirmed that it's precisely because the Swiss banks know their customers that they were so easily able to identify, track down and freeze the funds of names that are put on these terrorist lists," James Nason, spokesman for the Swiss Banker's Association, told swissinfo.
He added that Swiss banks are obliged not only to know the identity of customers, "but they also have to dig behind that and find out who the real beneficial owner of the assets are if they're different from the contracting party".
Anti-Terrorist Financing Task Force
Gurulé also praised Switzerland for its proactive approach to combating terrorist financing, after federal prosecutor, Valentin Roschacher, proposed creating a new joint Anti-Terrorist Financing Task Force during talks with Gurulé on Tuesday.
Under the arrangement - the first of its kind in the world - Swiss law enforcement agents would work side by side with the US Treasury Department and the FBI to "review investigative records and financial documents and share information".
Gurulé said the proposal was proof of Switzerland's commitment to supporting Washington's War on Terror.
"The [task force] is significant and unprecedented, at least with respect to the war on terrorist financing. I think that this particular proposal has great potential and I am looking forward to discussing this with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill when I return to Washington DC."
by Samantha Tonkin
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