More crooked banking

Thanks to a complex publishing exercise by the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde and other newspapers in Europe and around the world, a huge data leak has shed light on the owners of £80bn held in thousands of accounts in one of Switzerland’s foremost banks, Credit Suisse. They include people involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering and other serious crimes. They include kleptocrats spiriting their wealth away from the people they supposedly serve.

Why did the bank give such individuals a place to hide their cash? Credit Suisse says the information published from the leak is selective and not a fair representation of its current business conduct. (oh, really? Ed)

Nonetheless, the story highlights one of the most glaring problems in the world today: the ease with which vast sums can be diverted by corrupt individuals away from societies that desperately need the wealth. Financial crime is a serious issue of global public interest. When it involves corruption in the developing world, the impact on the planet’s poorest people can be profound.

Deciding to publish these stories was a balancing exercise. On one side: personal issues of privacy, confidentiality and data protection. On the other: the public’s right to know about wrongdoing. And our duty to reveal it. Our previous reporting on offshore secrecy – the HSBC files, the Panama, Paradise and Pandora Papers – has spurred global action in favour of fairer, more open banking. This investigation looks like it will have significant impact too.

Investigations like these are always risky, because of the feathers they ruffle. But on this occasion, there was an additional hazard to consider: any journalist who falls foul of Switzerland’s renowned 1934 banking secrecy law risks a five-year prison sentence.

About five years ago, Switzerland broadened its banking secrecy law so that it applies not just to bankers but to anyone who may have access to bank data and who shares it. Journalists fall into that category. For this reason, The Guardian has no media collaborators (on this project) in Switzerland. The risk was considered too high (imagine if the biggest story to hit your country in years came out – and none of the domestic newspapers felt they could cover it!)

“The Swiss press are enraged that this is a huge story and no Swiss publication has been able to be part of it,” Paul said. “Opposition leaders are already calling for reform of banking secrecy laws.”

Fortunately Swiss readers can – and are – reading the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Monde today. The truth will out. (The Guardian 22 Feb 2022)

My comment: I fear that this type of corruption has too many (paid-off) supporters in high places. Bravo and thanks to the brave newspapers, doing their job of uncovering crooked dealing. Epicurus would approve. But it’s a dangerous kind of life the journalists are leading, bless them.

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