- GENEVA - (Reuters) Organized
crime gangs from the former Soviet Union have infiltrated some 300 Swiss
companies and are using Switzerland as a "piggy bank", the country's
Attorney General Carla del Ponte was quoted on Sunday as saying.
- In a rare interview the outspoken Del Ponte, who on Friday
was nominated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the post of chief
prosecutor of the world body's war crimes tribunal, said mafia groups continued
to launder money in Swiss banks despite the introduction of a stringent
a new law in 1988.
- "The Swiss economy is being undermined more and
more by the mafia from the East. We estimate that around 300 Swiss companies
have already been infiltrated," Del Ponte told the Swiss-German Sunday
- A government report last year said some 80 Swiss companies
had been penetrated by mafia groups from the East.
- Asked what made Swiss banks so attractive to the mafia,
Del Ponte, who has long been the "bete noire" of secretive Swiss
private bankers, said: "Their services and the legend of banking secrecy."
- Switzerland is the world's biggest offshore banking center
for the wealthy accounting for about a third of the market.
- Determined to fight its reputation as a haven for so-called
"dirty money", Swiss authorities introduced a new money laundering
law last April.
- It was opposed by many Swiss bankers who saw it as a
threat to their business and to what was once seen as iron-clad protection
for their wealthy clients.
- Banking secrecy is the backbone of a business that manages
an estimated $2 trillion or more in private client assets in Switzerland.
- The new law made it obligatory for bankers, financial
intermediaries, investment advisers, asset managers, trust companies, foreign
exchange bureaus and life insurers to report suspicious dealings and block
funds if necessary.
- Despite the tighter rules, Del Ponte conceded that "until
now, we have been unable to prevent the mafia from laundering money here".
- Del Ponte, who has in the past cited the Russian mafia
as one of the principal external threats to the security of the Swiss state
and claimed that Russian criminals had stashed away $40 billion in Swiss
banks, warned of mafia-related violence in the country.
- "Wherever the mafia has a piggy bank, it is less
interested in drawing attention to itself with acts of violence. But that
situation could change quickly," she said. "Because first, the
criminal money comes in to Switzerland and later, its owners follow."
- A recent government report said that almost all of the
world's organized crime syndicates had a Swiss base and were investing
in property and other businesses in the country.
- Del Ponte, who is expected to take up her U.N. war crimes
tribunal post in The Hague on September 15, is likely to be replaced by
her deputy Felix Baenziger, according to Swiss media reports. ((c) 1999