New $100 billion ‘Suisse Secrets’ leaked

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The client rosters of Swiss banks are among the world’s most closely guarded secrets, protecting the identities of some of the planet’s richest people and clues into how they accumulated their fortunes.

Now, an extraordinary leak of data from Credit Suisse, one of the world’s most iconic banks, is exposing how the bank held hundreds of millions of dollars for heads of state, intelligence officials, sanctioned businessmen and human rights abusers, among many others, according to The New York Times on Sunday.

A self-described whistle-blower leaked data on more than 18,000 bank accounts, collectively holding more than $100 billion, to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper shared the data with a nonprofit journalism group, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and 46 other news organisations around the world, including The New York Times.

The data covers accounts that were open from the 1940s until well into the 2010s but not the bank’s current operations.

Among the people listed as holding amounts worth millions of dollars in Credit Suisse accounts were King Abdullah II of Jordan and the two sons of the former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. Other account holders included Venezuelan officials ensnared in a long-running corruption scandal.

The leak shows that Credit Suisse opened accounts for and continued to serve not only the ultrawealthy but also people whose problematic backgrounds would have been obvious to anyone who ran their names through a search engine.

Swiss banks have long faced legal prohibitions on taking money linked to criminal activity, said Daniel Thelesklaf, the former head of Switzerland’s anti-money laundering agency. But, he said, the law generally hasn’t been enforced.

Candice Sun, a spokeswoman for the bank, said in a statement that “Credit Suisse strongly rejects the allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices.” She said many of the accounts in the leak date back decades to “a time where laws, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from where they are now”.

Candice said that while Credit Suisse can’t comment on specific clients, many of the accounts identified in the leaked database have already been closed. “Of the remaining active accounts, we are comfortable that appropriate due diligence, reviews and other control related steps were taken, including pending account closures,” she said.

Candice added that the leak appears to be part of “a concerted effort to discredit the bank and the Swiss financial marketplace, which has undergone significant changes over the last several years”.

The leak follows the so-called Panama Papers in 2016, the Paradise Papers in 2017 and the Pandora Papers last year. They all shed light on the secretive workings of banks, law firms and offshore financial-services providers that allow wealthy people and institutions — including those accused of crimes — to move huge sums of money, largely outside the purview of tax collectors or law enforcement.

The new disclosures are likely to intensify legal and political scrutiny of the Swiss banking industry and, in particular, Credit Suisse. The bank is already reeling from the abrupt ousters of its two top executives.

With its ironclad bank-secrecy laws, Switzerland has long been a haven for people who are looking to hide money. In the past decade, that has made the country’s largest banks — especially its two giants, Credit Suisse and UBS — a target for the authorities in the United States and elsewhere who are trying to crack down on tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes.

In 2014, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to conspiring to help Americans file false tax returns and agreed to pay fines, penalties and restitution totaling $2.6 billion.

Three years later, the bank paid the Justice Department $5.3 billion to settle allegations about its marketing of mortgage-backed securities. Last fall, it agreed to pay $475 million to the US and British authorities to resolve an investigation into a kickback and bribery scheme in Mozambique. And this month, a trial got underway in Switzerland in which Credit Suisse is accused of allowing drug traffickers to launder millions of euros through the bank.

The Justice Department and the Senate Finance Committee are also looking into whether the US citizens continue to hold undeclared accounts at the bank.

Several former Credit Suisse employees told federal prosecutors late last year that the bank continued to hide hundreds of millions of dollars for clients long after its 2014 guilty plea, according to a whistle-blower lawsuit filed last year by a former bank official and a lawyer for other former employees. (The suit was dismissed after the Justice Department said it “threatens to interfere with ongoing discussions with Credit Suisse” about dealing with Swiss bank accounts held by the US citizens.)

The media consortium has nicknamed the latest leak “Suisse Secrets”. Of the more than 18,000 bank accounts involved, roughly 100 US citizens held accounts, but none are public figures.

Among the biggest revelations is that Credit Suisse continued to do business with customers even after bank officials flagged suspicious activity involving their finances.

One account holder was Venezuela’s former vice minister of energy, Nervis Villalobos.

Employees in Credit Suisse’s compliance department had reason to be wary of doing business with him. The bank had a 2008 report by an outside due-diligence firm detailing corruption allegations involving Villalobos and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, according to a Spanish police report obtained by the media consortium. (The Times reviewed the report.)

Credit Suisse nonetheless opened an account for him in 2011, the leaked bank data shows. The account, which was closed in 2013, held as much as $10 million.

Lawyers for Villalobos, who was criminally charged by the Justice Department in 2017, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

All told, there were 25 Credit Suisse accounts, containing a total of about $270 million, that belonged to people accused of being involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy surrounding Venezuela’s oil company. The accounts remained open after the scandal started to become public, but were closed by the time criminal charges were filed.

The bank also kept accounts open for a Zimbabwean businessman who was sanctioned by the US and European authorities for his ties to the government of the country’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe. The accounts stayed open for several months after the sanctions were imposed.

The leaked bank information included many accounts linked to government officials across the Middle East and beyond. The data raises questions about how public officials and their relatives accumulated vast fortunes in a region rife with corruption.

The sons of former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, held a total of six accounts at various points, including one in 2003 that was worth $196 million.

In a statement to The New York Times, the Mubaraks’ lawyers declined to comment about specific accounts but said the suggestion that any of the Mubaraks’ assets had been “tainted by any illegality or a result of any favoritism or use of influence” would be “both unfounded and defamatory”.

Any assets they held, the statement said, were from their “successful professional business activities”.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, one of the few officials in the leaks who remains in power, had six accounts, including one whose balance exceeded $224 million.

Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court said in a statement that there had been no “unlawful or improper conduct” in relation to the bank accounts. They held portions of the king’s private wealth, which was used for personal expenses, royal projects to help Jordanians and the maintenance of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, of which he is the custodian.

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In 2003, the year that the United States invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, Saad Kheir, the head of Jordan’s intelligence agency, opened an account that would eventually hold $21.6 million.

The account was closed after Kheir’s death in 2009.

The family of Mubarak’s long-serving and brutal spymaster, Omar Suleiman, had an account, too. Suleiman died in 2012. Efforts by the reporting project to reach his family were unsuccessful.

The leaked records were provided to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung more than a year ago by an unidentified whistle-blower. Of the dozens of news organisations collaborating on the project, none were based in Switzerland, where a 2015 law restricted journalists from writing articles based on internal bank data.

The whistle-blower said in a statement to the media consortium that Swiss bank-secrecy laws were “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 whistle-blower said.
 
ONE of Gen Ziaul Haq’s closest aides and the man largely credited with establishing the mujahideen network to counter Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, is one of thousands of figures from around the world who have been exposed in a massive leak of secret banking data from a leading Swiss bank.

Dubbed the ‘Suisse secrets’, this massive trove was provided to Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, by a whistle-blower and claims to have exposed the secret wealth of clients notorious for drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption.

According to the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) — a network of journalists from around the world that sifted through the data — accounts identified as potentially problematic held over $8 billion in assets.

The revelations indicate failures of due diligence by the bank in violation of commitments made to authorities to disown shady clients.

The data covers accounts that were open from the 1940s until well into the 2010s but not the bank’s current operations.

Hundreds of ‘problematic’ accounts said to hold around $8bn in corruption proceeds and more

According to the New York Times, senior intelligence officials and their offspring from several countries that cooperated with the US also had money stashed at Credit Suisse.

“As the head of the Pakistani intelligence agency, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan helped funnel billions of dollars in cash and other aid from the US and other countries to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to support their fight against the Soviet Union,” the NYT report says.

According to the newspaper, an account was opened in the name of three of General Akhtar’s sons in 1985, even though the general never faced charges of stealing aid money. Years later, the paper said, “the account would grow to hold $3.7 million, the leaked records show.”

An OCCRP report was more specific: it claimed that the Saudi Arabian and US funding for mujahideen fighters battling Russia’s presence in Afghanistan would go to the CIA’s Swiss bank account. “The end recipient in the process was Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence group (ISI), [at the time] led by Akhtar,” the report said.

The report states that “by the mid-1980s, Akhtar was adept at getting CIA cash into the hands of Afghan jihadists. It was around this time that Credit Suisse accounts were opened in the names of his three sons.”

OCCRP’s report stated that one of the two Akhtar family accounts at Credit Suisse — held jointly by three of Akhtar’s sons — was opened on July 1, 1985. That same year, US President Ronald Reagan would raise concerns about where the money intended for the mujahideen was going. By 2003, this account was worth at least five million Swiss francs ($3.7 million at the time). A second account, opened in January 1986 in Akbar’s name alone, was worth more than 9 million Swiss francs by November 2010 ($9.2 million at the time).”

However, one of Gen Khan’s sons told the project’s representative this information was “not correct” and “conjectural”.

The leak follows the so-called Panama Papers in 2016, the Paradise Papers in 2017 and the Pandora Papers last year.

The list of those named in the leaks includes King Abdullah II of Jordan and the two sons of the former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and Venezuelan officials ensnared in a long-running corruption scandal.

The data also features a Hong Kong stock trader once sent to jail on bribery charges, a tycoon who ordered the murder of his Lebanese lover, a Filipino human trafficker and dishonest politicians from Egypt to Ukraine.

One Vatican-owned account was used to spend 350 million dollars in an allegedly fraudulent scheme in London which is the focus of a criminal trial of several defendants, including a cardinal.

According to the OCCRP, the data also reveals that 15 intelligence figures from around the world, or their close family members, have held accounts at Credit Suisse.

Credit Suisse said Switzerland’s stringent secrecy laws do not allow it to comment on accusations about individual clients, but in a statement it strongly rejected “allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices”, arguing that the matters uncovered by reporters are based on “selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct.”

Further revelations are expected in the days to come as more and more of the data become public.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022
 
The bank shouldn't be held liable though as long as they were not breaking the rules that of in 1940. It's been 80 years and banking sectors have different regulations in different era. Most probably those were Dormant accounts already and have been non operational.
 
Some extremely dodgy stuff has been going down at Credit Suisse. Their CEO was recently forced to step down as well. Rather has the appearance of a sinking ship at the moment.
 
Sir António Horta-Osório is used to the spotlight.

As one of the UK's most high-profile bankers "AHO", as he is known in some circles, is credited with dragging Lloyds Banking Group back from the precipice following the financial crisis.

Most recently, however, Sir António has attracted rather more negative headlines.

After moving to Credit Suisse last April, it emerged that he had twice broken Covid quarantine rules in the UK and Switzerland.

Just nine months into his chairmanship of Switzerland's second largest bank, he was out.

———

Banker António Horta-Osório, who quit as Credit Suisse boss for breaking Covid isolation rules, also went to the Euros football final, it has emerged.

He resigned last weekend, with reports saying he had lost the confidence of other directors for going to the Wimbledon tennis finals last summer.

But the former Lloyds Bank boss also attended the football at Wembley on the same day, sources have confirmed.

The Swiss bank had organised corporate hospitality at both events, but Mr Horta-Osório took family members to both events after other guests were unable to use the tickets, the Financial Times said.

The Portuguese executive attended Wimbledon and the final of the European Championship in July at a time when the UK's Covid-19 restrictions required him to be in quarantine.

Mr Horta-Osório also breached Swiss Covid restrictions when, according to Reuters, he flew into the country on 28 November but left on 1 December. Swiss rules meant he should have quarantined for 10 days upon his arrival.

In his resignation statement earlier this week, Mr Horta-Osório said: "I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally.

"I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time," he added.
 
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