DCredit Suisse has lost the first Swiss criminal case against a major bank. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court found the institute guilty on Monday in a money laundering case involving a suspected Bulgarian cocaine trafficking ring. Due to internal organizational shortcomings, the court sentenced Credit Suisse to a fine of two million francs. In addition, the bank had to pay a compensation claim of over 19 million francs for assets withdrawn. The trial, in which witness statements about murders were made, among other things, was seen as a test case for a tougher judicial course against the country’s banks. Credit Suisse immediately announced that it intended to appeal. The investigation goes back more than 14 years. Credit Suisse has now strengthened the precautions to prevent money laundering. The ruling is another setback for the bank, whose reputation has been plagued by a string of failures, scandals and legal cases.
In the trial before the federal criminal court in Bellinzona, the court had to decide whether the bank and a former employee had done enough to thwart the gang’s money laundering in the years 2004 to 2008. “The company could have prevented the violation if it had done its organizational obligations would have been fulfilled,” said the presiding judge at the verdict. The former customer advisor was sentenced to 20 months in prison and a fine. Both are conditionally executable. Both the former employee and the bank had denied wrongdoing. The court found deficiencies in Credit Suisse’s management of customer relationships with the criminal organization and in monitoring the implementation of money laundering rules. These shortcomings would have allowed the gang’s multi-million dollar assets to be withdrawn. The customer advisor carried out transfer orders, although there was a concrete suspicion that the funds were of criminal origin.
The focus is on former Bulgarian top wrestler Evelin Banev. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, he became an entrepreneur, but he did not shy away from criminal acts: in Italy and Bulgaria he was sentenced to long prison terms for drug smuggling. Banev’s clan is accused of importing several dozen tons of cocaine from South America to Europe by couriers by boat and plane. He went into hiding in 2015 and was arrested in Ukraine in September last year. In Switzerland, Banev was not charged, only two helpers. They were found just as guilty as a former employee of another Swiss bank.
“A Turning Point”
The incidents came at a time when the regulations in Switzerland to prevent money laundering were even more lax. Back then, it was not uncommon for customers who wanted to evade taxes in their home countries to deposit cash with Swiss banks. It was only a few years later that banking secrecy was lifted under massive pressure from abroad.
The verdict was eagerly awaited in the country where the banking industry is very important. “This has the potential to be a turning point for Switzerland,” said Mark Pieth, a money laundering expert at the University of Basel, a few days before the verdict was announced. “What is special about this case is that Switzerland is taking action against a company, and not just any company – Credit Suisse is one of the jewels in the Swiss crown.”