Despite two decades of pledges by Credit Suisse to crack down on illegitimate funds, data leaked from the bank reveals that it catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties and political actors with outsized wealth.
German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a network of journalists from around the world that sifted through the data, obtained leaked records on more than 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts, the largest leak ever from a major Swiss bank.
This is just a small subset of the bank's overall holdings, but still found dozens of dubious characters in the data, including an Algerian general accused of torture, the children of a brutal Azerbaijani strongman, and even a Serbian drug lord known as Misha Banana.
Accounts identified as potentially problematic held over $8 billion in assets. Compliance experts who reviewed journalists' findings said many of these customers should not have been allowed to bank at Credit Suisse at all.
Asked why so many of these accounts existed, current and former employees described a work culture that incentivized taking on risk to maximize profits. Journalists and experts say Switzerland's draconian banking secrecy laws effectively silence insiders or journalists who may want to expose wrongdoing within a Swiss bank. A Swiss media group was unable to participate in the Suisse Secrets investigation due to the risk of criminal prosecution, OCCRP found.
They come from all over the world, each associated with a different corrupt, authoritarian regime and each enriching themselves in their own way. But there is one thing that unites them: Where they kept their money, the report said.
After its luxury watches, snow-capped mountains, and superior chocolates, the Alpine nation of Switzerland is perhaps known best for its secretive banking sector. And at the heart of that sector is Credit Suisse, which over its 166-year history has become one of the world's most important financial institutions.
With nearly 50,000 employees and 1.5 trillion Swiss francs in assets under management for 1.5 million clients, this banking behemoth is still just the second-largest bank in Switzerland, a testament to how central the banking sector is to this wealthy and comfortable nation.
Credit Suisse's clients included the family of an Egyptian intelligence chief who oversaw torture of terrorism suspects for the CIA; an Italian accused of laundering criminal funds for the infamous 'Ndrangheta criminal group; a German executive who bribed Nigerian officials for telecom contracts; and Jordan's King Abdullah II, who held a single account worth 230 million Swiss francs ($223 million) at its peak, even as his country raked in billions in foreign aid.
Venezuelan elites accused of plundering the state oil firm funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into Credit Suisse accounts. The money flowed during a period when widespread looting from government coffers precipitated an economic collapse that has prompted six million people to flee the country and driven others into near starvation. The bank kept its Venezuelan clients' accounts open even as global media exposed corruption cases against many of them.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at Sanjeev.email@example.com)
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First Published: Feb 21 2022 | 12:35 PM IST