A journalistic investigation dubbed “Suisse Secrets” conducted by around 48 media organizations and partners about a leaked data from Swiss bank Credit Suisse has exposed the hidden wealth of many of the bank’s clients who are allegedly involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes.
Based on the data leaked by an anonymous whistleblower that was linked to the bank’s more than 30,000 clients, the “Suisse Secrets” was able to unmask how Credit Suisse, one of the world’s biggest private banks, managed to “hide” the wealth of many of its rich clients around the world.
Topping the most notorious case in the history of Credit Suisse is the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, and his wife Imelda, who had estimated to have siphoned as much as $10 billion from the Philippines during Marcos’ term as president from 1965 to 1986.
Credit Suisse was reportedly one of the first banks to help the Marcoses in their “practices” and allegedly even helped them open Swiss accounts under fictitious names “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan.”
A Zurich court later ordered Credit Suisse and another bank in 1995 to return $500 million of stolen funds to the Philippines.
In 1992, lawyer Helen Rivilla was convicted for helping launder money on behalf of Marcos but she was still able to open a Swiss account in 2000 along with her husband Antonio. They reportedly had 8 million Swiss Franc (£3.6 million) at Credit Suisse before their accounts were closed in 2006.
Aside from Marcos, included in the list of Credit Suisse’s notorious clients were the relatives of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who was believed to have stolen as much as $5 billion from his people in just six years. Abacha’s sons had opened their accounts at Credit Suisse with $214 million deposits.
Another controversial client of Credit Suisse is Ronald Li Fook-shiu, former chairperson of the Hong Kong stock exchange who was popularly known as the “godfather of the stock market.”
Li Fook-shiu, who was one of the wealthiest people in the city, was convicted of taking bribes in exchange for listing companies on the stock exchange in 1990. But despite his record, he was still able to open an account at Credit Suisse in 2000 containing a deposit of 59 million Swiss Franc (£26.3 million).
Stefan Sederholm, a Swedish computer technician, was also able to open an account with Credit Suisse in 2008 even if he was convicted of human trafficking in the Philippines where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Sederholm’s representative said the bank never froze his accounts and did not close them until 2013.
Another account mentioned in the leaked data was owned by a person in Vatican which was used to spend €350 million (£290m) in an allegedly fraudulent investment in a property in London that is now at the center of an ongoing criminal trial with several defendants, including a cardinal.
The journalists working on Suisse Secrets also identified bank accounts that were linked to almost two dozen businessmen, officials and politicians who are implicated in corrupt schemes in Venezuela, most of which revolved around the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
César Mata-Garcia, a specialist in international petroleum law at the University of Dundee, said
corruption has always been around in PDVSA, in varying degrees and levels.
“The words ‘Venezuela’, ‘PDVSA’ and ‘oil’ are an alarm bell for banks,” Mata-Garcia said.
There are still many controversial accounts linked to the leaked data, which positively points to
“widespread failures of due diligence” by Credit Suisse, despite the bank’s repeated promises to weed out dubious clients and illicit funds.
But Credit Suisse denied such allegations, saying that the facts uncovered by reporters are based on “selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct.”
The bank said the allegations were largely historical and dates back to a time when “laws, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from where they are now.”
“In line with financial reforms across the sector and in Switzerland, Credit Suisse has taken a series of significant additional measures over the last decade, including considerable further investments in combating financial crime, upholding the highest standards of conduct,” the bank said in a statement.
The bank claimed that 90% of those accounts mentioned in Suisse Secrets were now closed or “were in the process of closure.”
“These media allegations appear to be a concerted effort to discredit the bank and the Swiss financial marketplace, which has undergone significant changes over the last several years,” the bank said in the statement.
Monika Roth, an expert on money laundering and a professor at Lucerne University, said Swiss banks had struggled for a long time to properly challenge politicians and public officials who deposited huge sums of money after their stints in public office receiving only relatively modest salaries.
“Nobody wants to have asked the question: how is that possible?” she said.
Credit Suisse became the first major Swiss bank in the country’s history to face criminal charges relating to allegations that it helped launder money from the cocaine trade on behalf of a Bulgarian mafia.
For the past three decades, the bank has racked up more than $4.2 billion in fines or settlements for at least a dozen of penalties and sanctions for various offences that involve tax evasion, money laundering, and other charges.
“I believe that Swiss banking secrecy laws are immoral. The pretext of protecting financial privacy is merely a fig leaf covering the shameful role of Swiss banks as collaborators of tax evaders,” the whistleblower said.