A major leak reveals the owners of the £ 80bn secret held in a Swiss bank
Whistleblower leaked bank details to expose ‘misconduct’ privacy laws
Clients include a human trafficker and a millionaire who ordered the murder of a girlfriend
The Vatican account was used to spend € 350m on suspected fraudulent investments
The scandalous Credit Suisse dismisses allegations that it may be a ‘corrupt bank’
A major leak at one of the world’s largest private banks, Credit Suisse, has revealed the hidden wealth of clients involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes.
Details of the accounts linked to 30,000 Credit Suisse customers worldwide are contained in the leak, identifying the beneficiaries of the Swiss francs of more than 100bn (£ 80bn) * held at one of Switzerland’s best-known financial institutions.
The leak points to the widespread failure of credit made by Credit Suisse, despite repeated promises over decades of eliminating skeptical customers and illicit funds. The Guardian is part of a media mix that is given exclusive access to data.
We can disclose how Credit Suisse repeatedly opens or maintains bank accounts of an astonishing series of high-risk clients around the world.
What is a leak of Suisse secrets?
Suisse Secrets is an international journalist’s investigation into the leak of data from the Swiss bank Credit Suisse. It includes more than 18,000 bank accounts leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung by an investigator who said the Swiss privacy laws were “immoral”. The information, which is a small fraction of the 1.5 million private bank clients, is linked to more than 30,000 Credit Suisse customers. The leak includes personal, shared and corporate bank accounts – holding, on average, 7.5m Swiss francs (CHF). About 200 accounts in the data are worth more than 100m CHF, and more than a dozen are worth billions. Although some data accounts have been open since the early 1940s, more than two-thirds have been open since 2000. Many of those are still open well over the last decade, and half are still open today.
The Guardian was among the more than 48 media partners around the world including journalists in Le Monde, NDR, Miami Herald and the New York Times. They spend months using the information to investigate the bank, in a project co-ordinated by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Organized Crime Reporting and Corruption Program (OCCRP). They found evidence that Credit Suisse accounts were being used by clients involved in harassment, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes, reflecting widespread bank failures. It is illegal to have a Swiss account and the leak contained data from legal clients who did nothing wrong. In their response, Credit Suisse said it “dismisses allegations and opinions about the so-called business processes of the bank”.
They include a human trafficker in the Philippines, a Hong Kong stock exchange official arrested for bribery, a millionaire who ordered the assassination of his Lebanese music star girlfriend and executives who robbed a Venezuelan oil company, and corrupt politicians from Egypt to Ukraine.
One Vatican-owned data account was used to spend € 350m (£ 290m) on suspected fraudulent investments in central London in the ongoing criminal case of several defendants, including a cardinal.
Lots of bank details were leaked to a reporter for the anonymous German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “I believe the Swiss banking laws are not fair,” a source said in a statement. “Excuses for the protection of financial confidentiality are just a fig leaf that covers the shameful role of Swiss banks as tax evaders.”
Credit Suisse said strict Swiss banking regulations prevent it from commenting on requests relating to individual customers.
“Credit Suisse dismisses suspicions and opinions about the banking business processes,” the bank said in a statement, arguing that the information provided to journalists was based on “selected information extracted without context, which leads to defining the banking business.”
The bank also said the allegations were “historic”, sometimes from a time when “the rules, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from what they are now”.
Although some data accounts have been open since the early 1940s, more than two-thirds have been open since 2000. Many of those are still open well over the last decade, and half are still open today.
The timing of its leak will not be too bad for Credit Suisse, who has recently been hit by a major scandal. Last month, it lost its chairman, António Horta-Osório, after he twice violated Covid-19 rules.
That ended a year of unprecedented controversy in which the bank was involved in the collapse of Greensill Capital and US hedge fund Archegos Capital, and was fined £ 350m for its role in the lending scandal in Mozambique.
This month, Credit Suisse became the first Swiss bank in the country’s history to deal with criminal cases – which it denies – related to allegations of aiding and abetting cocaine money laundering on behalf of the Bulgarian mafia.
However, the consequences of the leak could be wider than a single bank, threatening the Swiss crisis, which maintains one of the world’s most secretive banking laws. Swiss financial institutions carry approximately 7.9tn CHF (£ 6.3tn) in assets, about half of which are for foreign customers.
The Suisse secrets project offers a unique glow to one of the world’s largest financial institutions, which has grown accustomed to working in the shadows. Identifies prisoners and money traffickers who have been able to open bank accounts, or keep them open for years after their cases have arisen. It also highlights how Switzerland’s laws on banking secrecy helped to curb the looting of developing countries.
Embarrassed managers, fraudsters, traffickers – clients
When Ronald Li Fook-shiu approached a bank clerk to open an account in 2000, he was less likely to be considered a hard-working customer. Former chairman of the Hong Kong stock exchange, she was one of the richest people in the city, where she was known as the “goddess of the stock market”. But he probably was well-known during his time in the maximum-security prison.
Li’s career had come to an end with a scandal in 1990, when he was convicted of taking bribes to get companies off the stock list. However, ten years later Li was able to open an account that later held 59m CHF (£ 26.3m), according to the leak.
He is dead, but his case is one of many that have been reported to suggest that Credit Suisse has opened or maintained the accounts of customers with serious cases that could be expected to be investigated. There are some cases where Credit Suisse may take immediate action after the emergence of red flags, but the case shows that unsuspecting customers are attracted to the bank.
Like all other banks in the world, Credit Suisse claims to have strict controls in place to ensure that its customers’ high standards are maintained “. In banking language, such controls are called know-your-client or KYC checks.
A leaked 2017 report approved by the Swiss financial regulator illuminates internal banking processes at that time. Customers will face severe testing if they are branded as a politically exposed person from a high-risk country, or a person involved in risky activities such as gambling, arms trade, financial services or mining, the report said.
Relationship managers were expected to use external sources to ascertain clients and their risk levels, according to the leak, which included news headlines or archives such as the Thomson Reuters World-Check forum, which is widely used in the financial services industry to signal people being arrested, prosecuted, investigated or they have been convicted of a very serious crime.
Such regulation could be expected to prevent the bank from opening accounts for clients such as Rodoljub Radulović, a Serbian pawn fraud filed in 2001 by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. However, leaked data identifies him as the signatory and two accounts of the Credit Suisse company. The first one was opened in 2005, a year after the SEC received a suspended sentence against Radulović for conducting a pumping and dumping program.
One of Radulović’s company accounts had a 3.4m CHF (£ 2.2m) before closing in 2010. He recently received a 10-year sentence by a Belgrade court for his role in smuggling cocaine from South America thanks to organized crime boss Darko Šarić. . Radulović’s lawyer did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Diligence is not just for new customers. Banks need to re-evaluate existing customers on an ongoing basis. A 2017 report stated that Credit Suisse surveys customers at least every three years and several times a year at high-risk customers. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
Therefore, the bank was expected to find out that its German customer Eduard Seidel was convicted of bribery in 2008. Seidel was a Siemens employee. As a multinational leader in Nigeria, he has spearheaded an industry-wide bribery campaign to secure lucrative contracts for his employer by investing in corrupt Nigerian politicians.
After German authorities raided Siemens’ Munich headquarters in 2006, Seidel immediately admitted his involvement in the bribery scandal, although he said he had never stolen the company or embezzled funds. His involvement in corruption led to his name being placed on the Thomasson Reuters World-Check website in 2007.
However, leaked Credit Suisse data shows that his accounts have been left open for at least the last ten years. Sometime after leaving Siemens, one account cost 54m CHF (£ 24m). Seidel’s lawyer declined to say whether the accounts belong to him. He said his client had resolved all pending cases of bribery and wished to continue with his life.
The lawyer did not respond to repeated invitations to explain the source of the 54m CHF source. Siemens said they had no information about the money and that its cash flow review does not shed light on the account.
Although Credit Suisse said in a statement it could not comment on any specific customers, the bank said “actions have been taken in accordance with applicable policies and regulatory requirements in a timely manner, and that related issues have been resolved”.
In some cases, Credit Suisse is understood to have suspended account clients. However questions remain as to how fast the bank will move to close them.
One client, Stefan Sederholm, a Swedish computer specialist who opened an account with Credit Suisse in 2008, was able to keep it open for two and a half years after being convicted of human trafficking in the Philippines. he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Sederholm’s crime first surfaced in 2009, when Manila police raided the front of the store, which is part of the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement, and found about 17 women dressed in cubicles with webcams making sexually explicit material to foreign clients. He was convicted in 2011.
A spokesman for Sederholm said Credit Suisse did not block his accounts and did not close them until 2013 when he was unable to provide testing equipment. Asked why Sederholm needed a Swiss account, they said he lived in Thailand when it was opened, adding: “Please tell me if you would like to deposit your money in a Thai or Swiss bank?”
Ferdinand and Imelda plundered the Philippines
Swiss banks have maintained their credibility since as early as 1713, when the General Assembly in Geneva barred banks from disclosing details about the treasures set by European officials. Switzerland soon became a tax haven for many world officials, and its banks promoted “complete peace” in the affairs of their clients.
The practice was enacted in 1934 with the introduction of a Swiss banking law, which criminalized the disclosure of customer bank details to foreign authorities. Over the decades, wealthy clients from all over the world flocked to Swiss banks. Sometimes, that meant clients and something to hide.
One of the most notorious cases in Credit Suisse’s history involved a corrupt Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. The couple is estimated to have earned about $ 10bn in the Philippines during Ferdinand’s presidency, which ended in 1986.
It has long been known that Credit Suisse was one of the first banks to help Marcose destroy their country and in a notorious episode they even helped open Swiss accounts under the pseudonym “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan”. In 1995, a Zurich court ordered Credit Suisse and another bank to return $ 500m of stolen money to the Philippines.
The leaked information contained the account of Helen Rivilla, a lawyer who was convicted in 1992 of helping to defraud money on behalf of Ferdinand Marcos. Despite this, she managed to open a Swiss account in 2000, along with her husband, Antonio, who faced similar charges later dropped.
It is hard to imagine how credit Suisse could have missed out on a money laundering case that linked a couple with a corrupt Philippine leader, reported by the Associated Press. The couple, who could not be reached for comment, managed to hold about 8m CHF (£ 3.6m) with the bank before their accounts were closed in 2006.
A former Credit Suisse employee at the time said there was a tradition that was very much focused on the Swiss bank to look the other way when it came to troubled customers. “The law enforcement departments [were] the masters of sound denial,” they told a reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, one of the coordinators of the Suisse secrets project. “Never write anything down that could expose an incompatible account and never ask a question you do not want to know the answer to.”
The 2000s were also the decade when foreign regulators and tax authorities became increasingly frustrated with their inability to enter the Swiss financial system. That changed in 2007, when UBS bank owner Bradley Birkenfeld voluntarily spoke to US authorities about how the bank was helping thousands of wealthy Americans avoid tax evasion through secret accounts.
Birkenfeld was considered a heretic in Switzerland, where bankers were frequently harassed. However, an extensive U.S. Senate investigation later uncovered the vicious tactics used by UBS and Credit Suisse, the latter found that it sent bankers to high-profile events to hire customers, favor a potential customer for free gold, and another case even brought critical bank statements hidden in magazine pages. Sports Illustrated.
The revelations sent shocking waves to the Swiss financial sector and angered the US, forcing Switzerland to independently disclose which of its taxpayers had held Swiss secret accounts since 2014. That same year, Switzerland doubted the legitimacy of an international banking exchange. .
By adopting the so-called common reporting standard (CRS) for data tax sharing, Switzerland actually agreed that its banks would in the future exchange information about their customers with foreign tax authorities. They started doing that in 2018.
Membership of the global trading system is often cited by the Swiss banking industry as a revolution. “There are no longer any Swiss bank customer confidentiality for overseas customers,” the Swiss Bankers Association told the Guardian. “Obviously, there is nothing we can hide in Switzerland.”
The Swiss banking law of almost 90 years is still in force – and has recently been expanded. The Tax Justice Network estimates that countries around the world lose $ 21bn (£ 15.4bn) each year in tax revenue due to Switzerland. Most of those countries will be the poorest countries that have not registered for CRS data exchange.
More than 90 countries, most of them in developing countries, remain in the dark as wealthy taxpayers hide their money in Swiss accounts.
This inequality in the system was cited by a leaked data spokesman, who said the CRS system “imposes a heavy financial and infrastructure burden on developing countries, furthering its rollout from the system in the foreseeable future”.
“This situation is making corruption more and more hungry for developing countries to get much-needed tax revenue. These countries are the worst affected by the Swiss reverse-Robin-Hood, ”they said.
The report agreed that the leak would contain official accounts and disclosed by the customer to its tax authorities.
“I know that having a Swiss bank account does not mean tax evasion or any other financial crime,” they said. “However, it is possible that a large number of these accounts have been opened for the sole purpose of concealing the owners’ assets in financial institutions and / or to avoid paying high interest rates.”
It was not possible for reporters in the Suisse secrecy project to find out how many more than 18,000 billing accounts have been disclosed to the appropriate tax authorities.
Links to one dictator … and another
Ferdinand Marcos was probably the most famous client of Credit Suisse. It is caused by relatives of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who is believed to have stolen up to $ 5bn from his people in just six years. It has long been known that Credit Suisse provides services to Abacha’s sons, opening Swiss accounts where he deposits $ 214m.
Credit Suisse publicly regretted it after being kicked out of the fixed investment list in this regard. “We understand that the index was not really happy with our involvement with Abacha – we were also unhappy,” a spokesman said in 1999. “But we have solved those problems and for several years we have taken internal measures to ensure that nothing is done. The same will happen in the future.”
Banks allow kleptocrats to swindle their money and contribute to far-reaching crime. The consequences for the poor can already be devastating, as state finances are taken away, basic values are undermined and the credibility of democracy through declining economies.
Politicians and government officials are among the most dangerous customers in the world because of their access to public funds, especially in developing countries with few legal protections against corrupt practices. Banks and other financial institutions need to be politically disclosed, or PEPs, under strict scrutiny, known as “enhanced efficiency”.
Credit Suisse information leaked to politicians and allies who have been linked to corruption before, during or after their accounts. None of them are known as Marcoses or Abacha, but a few were very powerful in the lands from Syria to Madagascar, where they accumulated wealth.
They include Pavlo Lazarenko, who served one year of corruption as prime minister of Ukraine between 1997 and 1998 before applying for an account at Credit Suisse. One month after pressure from rivals forced Lazarenko to announce his resignation, he opened his first midnight account at Credit Suisse. One was later estimated at 8m CHF (£ 3.6m).
Lazarenko was later accused by Transparency International of embezzling $ 200m from the Ukrainian government, allegedly threatening to harm businesses without paying 50% of their profits. He pleaded guilty to money laundering in Switzerland in 2000, and later was convicted of corruption in the US and sentenced to nine years in prison in 2006 for bribing a Ukrainian businessman.
His lawyer said the charges had nothing to do with the theft of any money from the Ukrainian people. Lazarenko, who reportedly lives in California, has refused to return to the country, where he still faces charges of stealing $ 17m. His lawyer said his Credit Suisse accounts had not been available for two decades and had been closed due to his trial.
It is not yet clear why Credit Suisse allowed Lazarenko to open an account and deposit such large sums of money in the first place, given his background; before entering politics, Lazarenko was an officer on a joint farm.
Monika Roth, a money laundering specialist and professor at the University of Lucerne, said Swiss banks have long struggled to challenge politicians and government officials who, after taking government seats at low salaries, came up with huge sums of money to invest. . He said: “No one wants to ask a question: how can that be?”
While doing business with Lazarenko, Credit Suisse appeared to be deeply involved in Egyptian politics under the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was president for 30 years until 2011. established business empires in Egypt.
The brothers’ relationship with the bank lasted for decades, with the first joint account opened by the brothers in 1993. In 2010 – a year before the famous uprising that ousted his father – Alaa’s account held 232m CHF (£ 138m).
After the Arab uprising, their fortunes changed, and in 2015 the brothers and their father were sentenced to three years in prison by an Egyptian court for fraud and corruption. They said the case was politically motivated, but after the failure of the appeal Alaa and Gamal paid an estimated $ 17.6m to the Egyptian government in a non-criminal agreement.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. They added that their Swiss accounts had been frozen for more than a decade, pending the outcome of an investigation by Swiss authorities.
Other Credit Suisse clients linked to Hosni Mubarak are the late wealthy Hussein Salem – who worked for the dictator for nearly three decades, gained wealth through popular tenders and died in exile after facing money laundering charges – and Hisham Talaat. Moustafa, a building politician in Mubarak’s party.
Moustafa, who could not be reached for comment, was convicted in 2009 of hiring a gunman to kill his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese music star Suzanne Tamim – but his account was not closed until 2014.
Another Mubarak publisher linked to Credit Suisse’s banking services was Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence officer. His friends were listed as data owners with an account that owned 63m CHF (£ 26m) in 2007. Suleiman was a feared man in Egypt, where he was responsible for human rights abuses and abuses.
The details reveal Credit Suisse accounts held by a few other intellectuals and their family members, including in Pakistan, Jordan, Yemen and Iraq. Another Algerian client was Khaled Nezzar, who served as defense minister until 1993 and was involved in a coup d’état that led to a brutal civil war in which he was accused of disappearance, mass arrests, torture and execution of prisoners.
Nezzar’s alleged role in human rights abuses was widely documented in 2004, when his account was opened. It contained a high balance of 2m CHF (£ 900,000) and remained open until 2013, after two years of detention in Switzerland on suspicion of war crimes. He has denied the allegations and the investigation is ongoing.
If ordinary Algerians, Egyptians and Ukrainians have reason to complain that it is possible for Credit Suisse to help aggressive leaders, their grievances are insignificant compared to Venezuelans.
Journalists working on the Suisse secrecy project have identified Credit Suisse accounts linked to nearly a dozen businessmen, officials and politicians involved in Venezuela’s corruption schemes, most of them around the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
“Corruption has been rampant in PDVSA, at various levels and levels,” said César Mata-Garcia, a professor at the University of Dundee who specializes in international petroleum law. “The terms ‘Venezuela’, ‘PDVSA’ and ‘oil’ are metallic.”
If so, that does not seem to have stopped Credit Suisse’s customer success over time, which has revealed that they are involved in a number of US investigations and PDVSA-related persecution and the Venezuelan economic robbery.
One case involves two US-based Venezuelan businessmen Roberto Rincón Fernández and Abraham Shiera Bastidas, who in 2009 began bribing officials to secure lucrative PDVSA contracts with the help of his colleague, Fernando Ardila Rueda. Among those who reportedly received the bungs were deputy energy minister Nervis Villalobos Cárdenas, and PDVSA chief executive Luis De Léon Perez.
n 2015, US prosecutors begin suing participants; court papers repeatedly refer to anonymous Swiss bank accounts. However, leaked data reveals that all five men with Credit Suisse accounts were active at the time of the conviction. Of the five, four have pleaded guilty. In contrast, Villalobos, opposes the repatriation to the US from Spain.
Some Credit Suisse accounts linked to Venezuela contain large sums of money; Villalobos had an estimated $ 9.5m CHF (£ 6.3m) in his account and De Léon had an estimated $ 22m (£ 15.5m). Rincon, a bribery businessman, had more than 68m CHF (£ 44.2m) in his account since November 2015, the month before his arrest.
‘How many bankers are corrupt before you became a corrupt banker?’
When the magnificent Credit Suisse headquarters was built in the 1870s in Zurich, it was designed to symbolize “Switzerland as a financial institution”. More than 150 years later, Credit Suisse occupies the same large area and Switzerland remains a global coastal center, as it has for the past 300 years.
It is only in recent decades that Credit Suisse, one of the oldest and most popular banks in Switzerland, has gained a reputation for disaster. As one commentator noted earlier this week: “The bank is proud to announce that its mission is to serve its rich customers’ ‘carefully and commercially’, but in the meantime most of them would be happy as long as they avoid further embarrassment. ”
Horta-Osório took less than a year before resigning last month. Shortly after Credit Suisse elected its new chairman, Axel Lehmann, the bank reported a loss of 1.6bn CHF (£ 1.3bn) in the fourth quarter, in part because it had set aside more than 400m CHF (£ 320m). to deal with unspoken. “Inheritance case information”.
And there is no shortage of those. Scandals involving Greensill, Archegos and Mozambican bonds hit the bank last year.
Over the past three decades, Credit Suisse has faced at least a dozen penalties and penalties for offenses including tax evasion, money laundering, deliberate breach of US penalties and fraud committed against its clients for decades. In total, it has raised more than $ 4.2bn in fines or compensation.
That includes $ 2.6bn a Swiss bank that agreed to pay US authorities after pleading guilty to conspiracy to help tax evasion in 2014; $ 536m fined by the US five years ago for deliberately exceeding US sanctions on countries including Iran and Sudan in 2009, as well as other payments to Germany and Italy for alleged tax evasion.
Against this backdrop, the disclosure of Suisse secrets could raise questions about whether Credit Suisse challenges are a sign of a serious illness in the bank.
Jeff Neiman, a Florida-based lawyer representing a number of Credit Suisse spokespersons, believes the bank’s scandals are a serious problem.
“The bank would like to say that they are just banks. But how many corrupt banks do you need to have before you can start a corrupt bank? “Said Neiman. many, diligently.help people to avoid anything law in order to properly protect property under management ”.
Such allegations are largely denied by Credit Suisse. In line with financial reforms across the sector and in Switzerland, Credit Suisse has taken a series of additional initiatives over the past decade, including significant investment in the fight against financial crime, “the bank said in a statement, adding that it adhered to” high standards of conduct “.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. In November, it announced that it would put “risk management at the core of the bank
The bank said in its “initial review” of accounts flagged by the Suisse privacy reporting project found that more than 90% of those reviewed were closed or “in the process of closing before receiving media inquiries”. Of the remaining accounts, which remain active, the bank said it was “gratifying to take proper care, review and other regulatory-related measures, including pending account closures”.
A Credit Suisse statement added: “These media allegations appear to be a concerted effort to tarnish the image of the Swiss bank and financial market, which has undergone major changes over the past few years.”
The debate over whether the Swiss banking industry has had enough changes may be revived due to leaks. The report shared that the banks alone should not be blamed for the state of affairs, as “they are just good capitalists by maximizing profits within the legal framework in which they operate”.
“Simply put, the Swiss legislature has a duty to allow financial crime and – because of their direct democracy – the Swiss people have the power to do something about it.