A new global journalistic work has unveiled a major data leak revealing that the Swiss bank Credit Suisse has for years stashed away the fortunes of people linked to corruption around the world, including corrupt businessmen and human rights violators, with a combined value of some US$ 100 billion.
For months, more than 163 journalists from 48 media outlets in 39 countries, coordinated by the “Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project”, analyzed data from some 18,000 Swiss bank accounts leaked a year ago to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an unidentified person.
Switzerland is a known destination for money from around the world, in part because of its banking secrecy laws. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a Swiss bank account, however, banks should avoid customers who earned money illegally or were involved in criminal activity, and the reporters identified dozens of corrupt government officials among Credit Suisse account holders.
Prominent among them are officials accused of plundering Venezuela’s oil wealth and hastening the country’s plunge into humanitarian crisis; a Yemen spy chief implicated in torture; or the sons of one of Azerbaijan’s strongmen, who rules a mountainous territory as if it were his private fiefdom.
The leak data does not extend to the present day, although many of the accounts remained open well into the 2010s.
The years with the most account openings were 2007 and 2008, and 2014, the year with the most account closures, coinciding with the introduction of new regulations in Switzerland to automatically exchange tax information of clients residing abroad.
It should be recalled that during 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fined Credit Suisse. (DOJ) fined Credit Suisse $2.6 billion for what it described as “a conspiracy to aid U.S. tax evaders.” However, no one went to jail, nor did anyone lose any licenses.
James Henry, an economist and consultant for Tax Justice Network, explained that for banks operating in Switzerland paying a fine is just a rounding error” that they pass on to their customers or something they treat as “a cost of doing business.”
The Swiss banking system values secrecy over accountability, making it prone to misuse. Swiss banks have a long history of accepting bad clients, from the Nazis to some of the worst autocratic dictators in the modern world. They have compromised several times, and indeed have removed many people from their client list, but in terms of transparency, it is never enough.