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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 02:35 GMT
Swiss fury at money laundering claims
Arnaud Montebourg (R) and Vincent Peillon present their report on money laundering
French parliamentarians presenting their controversial report
By Imogen Foulkes in Berne

Switzerland has reacted angrily to a French parliamentary report which accuses it of continuing to be too soft on money launderers.

A statement from the Swiss finance ministry said it rejected the report's accusations of laxness.

Switzerland gives the impression that it is fighting hard against laundering but the resources committed by federal authorities, highlight a significant lag compared to their European Union neighbours

French parliamentary report
Meanwhile, top Swiss bankers have harshly criticised the report and its authors.

Despite introducing new legislation on money laundering, Switzerland has continued to suffer from financial scandals, including allegations that the late Nigerian leader, Sani Abacha, deposited billions of dollars in Switzerland and that the Russian Mafia is laundering money through Swiss banks.

International pressure

The French parliamentary report's description of Switzerland as a predator in international finance was guaranteed to raise hackles in Swiss financial circles.

Less than three years ago, the Swiss introduced a new money laundering law, requiring banks to report suspicious investments.

The Federal Department of Finance rejects any accusations of laxness in its fight against money laundering. These unfounded accusations deprive the report of its credibility

Swiss Finance ministry
But the French parliamentary commission says the legislation is inadequate and that Swiss banks maintain their culture of secrecy.

In strong terms, the report describes Swiss efforts to combat money laundering as a facade.

And in a move certain to infuriate many Swiss, the report suggests that international pressure will have to force Swiss banks to change in the same way that they bowed to criticism over the issue of dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims.

Swiss denials

The Swiss government has remained tight-lipped over the report.

A statement from the finance department says only that it rejects the accusations of laxness and that Switzerland remains committed to the fight against financial crime.

But Swiss bankers are angry.

A spokesman for the Swiss Bankers Association said the report's authors came to Switzerland with their eyes shut and only wanted to reinforce their preconceptions.

Meanwhile, the Swiss Association of Private Banks described the report as biased and accused the French parliamentarians of having abused the hospitality offered to them in Switzerland.

There is no doubt the Swiss are upset at such harsh criticism from such a close neighbour as France.

But the publication of the report indicates that Switzerland still has a long way to go before its reputation as a haven for money launderers is overcome.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Business
Clampdown on money laundering
30 Oct 00 | Business
Banks target dirty money
20 Jul 00 | Business
Liechtenstein banking crackdown
08 Jul 00 | Business
G7 warns dirty money states
20 Oct 00 | Business
London implicated in Abacha probe
21 Jan 00 | Africa
Banks freeze more Abacha millions
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