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What is the Credit Suisse scandal? Understanding Swiss banking secrets

What is the Credit Suisse scandal? Understanding Swiss banking secrets

After months of scandals at the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse, a whistleblower has alleged that the firm has financial dealings with criminals, corrupt dictators and shady businesspeople. The whistleblower responsible for the leak branded Switzerland’s banking privacy laws as immoral, while Credit Suisse has rejected the allegations and stated that the issues raised are "historical." Here’s everything we know so far.

Credit Suisse’s leaked data was published in a report on Sunday 

The leaked data from the company was published in a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on February 20. Originally, the files were sent to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper just over a year ago, and were then passed on to the OCCRP for further investigation. 

The OCCRP is a consortium of investigative bodies, journalists and media outlets focused on reporting organised crime and corruption around the world. It has worked on several high-profile investigations, including reports centred around the corrupt activities of several world leaders such as Milo Đukanović of Montenegro, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and even the former US president Donald Trump.

In the Credit Suisse investigation, the OCCRP obtained details of more than 18.000 Swiss bank accounts, linked to more than 30.000 clients. Almost 200 accounts included in the data are worth more than 100 million Swiss francs, and more than a dozen contain an amount in excess of 1 billion Swiss francs. 

Credit Suisse data shows some controversial people with money in Switzerland

Among the 18.000 accounts there are some famous faces - but for many for the wrong reasons. Many autocratic leaders choose to keep bank accounts in Switzerland thanks to their strict banking secrecy laws. Aside from autocrats, it was claimed that international criminals have also been relying on Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws to help them evade capture. The leak has alleged that a large number of criminals including suspected drug smugglers, fraudsters and human traffickers have bank accounts at Credit Suisse.

Why does Switzerland have banking secrecy rules?

While finance has been an especially lucrative business for the Swiss economy, the country’s banking laws have come under fire in recent years for protecting corrupt officials and internationally wanted criminals.

Swiss banking laws were created with privacy in mind in the 1700s - a time long before rapid international money transfers were even imaginable - with the intention of safeguarding the French monarchy’s interests. Since then, Switzerland has been able to build a financial empire using these strict laws, coupled with the nation’s infamous stance on neutrality, to attract money from around the world. During the World Wars, this became especially lucrative for the country, as it could act as a third-party safe haven for the finances of both sides of the conflict. 

Since then, the market expanded to attract even more international customers, by offering low business tax rates, building luxury tourist destinations and ski resorts to bring more money in from abroad. While the 2008 financial crisis forced the Swiss banking sector to repeal some of its secrecy rules, many of the original laws are still in place, meaning that entrepreneurs, criminals and corrupt politicians can still enjoy the benefits of the Swiss banking system.  

Credit Suisse denies allegations and brands them as history

In a statement on February 20, Credit Suisse denied any wrongdoing and stated that many of the issues raised in the new report are "historic", with many of the accounts already being closed and the report using some cases dating back to the 1940s. According to the Guardian - one of the media outlets involved in the OCCRP - while Credit Suisse’s claims that some of the issues are historic, more than two-thirds of the data leaked is focused on accounts opened after 2000. 

The bank went on to criticise the validity of the investigation, claiming that “the accounts of these matters are based on partial, inaccurate, or selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct.” 

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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