Vast leak reveals how Credit Suisse serves the strong and spies

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

Now, an unusual data leak from Credit Suisse, one of the world’s most iconic banks, is revealing how it holds hundreds of millions of dollars for heads of state, important intelligence agencies, sanctioned businessmen and human rights violators, among others.

A self-described whistleblower leaked data on more than 18,000 bank accounts, totaling more than $100 billion, to the German newspaper. Suddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper shared the data with a non-profit press group, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Projectand 46 other news organizations around the world, including The New York Times.

The data includes accounts opened from the 1940s through the 2010s but does not include the bank’s current operations.

Among those listed as holding millions of dollars in Credit Suisse accounts are King Abdullah II of Jordan and the two sons of former Egyptian powerhouse Hosni Mubarak. Other account holders include the son of a Pakistani intelligence chief who helped transfer billions of dollars from the United States and other countries to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and Venezuelan officials involved in a case prolonged corruption scandal.

The leak shows that Credit Suisse has opened accounts and continues to serve not only the super-rich, but also those with problematic backgrounds that could be obvious to anyone using the search engine. .

Swiss banks have long faced legal bans over taking money linked to criminal activity, it said. Daniel Thelesklaf, former head of Switzerland’s anti-money laundering agency. However, he said, the law is often not enforced.

Candice Sun, a spokeswoman for the bank, said in a statement that “Credit Suisse strongly denies the allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices.” Many of the accounts in the leak date back to decades, she said, “in a time when the laws, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from today.”

Ms. Sun said that while Credit Suisse could not comment on specific customers, many of the accounts identified in the leaked database were closed. “Among the remaining active accounts, we feel comfortable that appropriate due diligence, review, and other control-related steps have been taken, including closing the active account. pending,” she said.

Ms Sun added that the leak appeared to be part of a “coordinated effort to discredit the Swiss bank and financial markets, which have undergone significant changes over the past few years”.

The leak follows the so-called Panama Papers in 2016, Paradise Papers in 2017 and Pandora Papers last year. It all sheds light on the clandestine operations of offshore banks, law firms and financial service providers that allow the wealthy and institutions – including those accused of crimes – transfer huge sums of money, much of it beyond the reach of tax collectors or law enforcement.

The new revelations are likely to intensify legal and political scrutiny over the Swiss banking industry and Credit Suisse in particular. The bank was reeling with suddenly clouds of its two top executives.

With strict banking secrecy laws, Switzerland has long been a haven for those looking to hide their money. Over the past decade, that has made the country’s biggest banks – particularly the credit giants Credit Suisse and UBS – the targets of authorities in the United States and elsewhere trying to crack down on them. tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes.

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

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

The Department of Justice and the Senate Finance Committee are Also looking at whether US citizens will 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 from customers long after pleading guilty in 2014, according to a whistleblower lawsuit. filed last year by a former bank official and a lawyer for other former employees. (The lawsuit was dropped after the Justice Department said it “risked interfering with ongoing discussions with Credit Suisse” about its handling of Swiss bank accounts held by US citizens. hold).

The media conglomerate has nicknamed the latest leak the “Suisse Secret”. Of the more than 18,000 bank accounts involved, about 100 US citizens have accounts, but none are in the public domain.

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

One account holder is Venezuela’s former deputy energy minister, Nervis Villalobos.

Credit Suisse compliance officers have 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 Mr Villalobos and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, according to a police report. Spanish records obtained by the media group. (The Times reviewed the report.)

However, Credit Suisse opened an account for him in 2011, leaked bank data shows. The account was closed in 2013, which amounted to $10 million.

Lawyer for Mr. Villalobos, who was criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice in 2017, did not respond to a request for comment.

All told, there are 25 Credit Suisse accounts, containing a total of about $270 million, belonging to people accused of being involved in a vast conspiracy surrounding the Venezuelan oil company. The accounts remained open after the scandal began to become public, but were closed at the time criminal charges were filed.

The bank also opened an account for a Zimbabwean businessman who had punished by US and European authorities because of his ties to the government of the country’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe. The accounts remained open for several months after the sanctions were imposed.

The leaked banking information included multiple accounts linked to government officials across the Middle East and beyond. The data raises questions about how public officials and their relatives amass huge fortunes in an area rife with corruption.

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

In a statement to The New York Times, lawyers for Mubaraks declined to comment on specific accounts but said it was suggested that any of Mubaraks’ assets had been “contaminated by any illegality.” or due to any bias or use of influence” would be “Both baseless and defamatory.”

The statement said any assets they hold were from their “successful professional business activities”.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, one of the few officials in the leak still in power, has six accounts, including one with balances in excess of $224 million.

Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court said in a statement that there was no “illegal or improper conduct” regarding the bank accounts. They hold a portion of the king’s private property, which is used for personal expenses, royal projects to help the Jordanians and maintain the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, of which he is custodian.

Senior intelligence officials and their descendants from several countries that cooperated with the United States in the war on terror also stored funds at Credit Suisse.

As head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan helped channel billions of dollars in cash and other aid from the United States and other countries to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to aid the fight against their Soviet Union.

In 1985, the same year President Ronald Reagan called for greater oversight of aid into Afghanistan, an account was opened in the names of General Khan’s three sons. (The general never faced charges of stealing aid.) Years later, the account would grow to $3.7 million, leaked records show.

Two of the general’s sons, Akbar and Haroon Khan, did not respond to a request for comment from the reporting project. In a text message, the third son, Ghazi Khan, called information about the accounts “incorrect,” adding, “Content is conjecture.”

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

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

The family of Mr. Mubarak’s long and brutal servant, Omar Suleiman, also has an account. Mr. Suleiman died in 2012. Project reports’ efforts to reach his family have been unsuccessful.

The leaked files were provided to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago by an unidentified whistleblower. Of the dozens of news organizations that collaborated on the project, none are based in Switzerland, where a 2015 law restricts journalists from writing articles based on internal bank data.

The whistleblower said in a statement to the media group that Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws were “immoral.”

“The pretext to protect financial privacy is just a figurine that covers up the shameful role of Swiss banks as collaborators of tax evaders,” the whistleblower said.

Katie Benner contribution report and Kitty Bennett research contributions. Vast leak reveals how Credit Suisse serves the strong and spies

Fry Electronics Team

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