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'Swissleaks' investigation targeting Credit Suisse bank includes Marcos-linked account

Published Feb 21, 2022 2:23 pm Updated Feb 21, 2022 2:30 pm

Credit Suisse bank, still reeling from losing billions of dollars last year, faced a fresh challenge Sunday: allegations from an international investigation that it had handled dirty money for decades.

A cross-border media investigation broke Sunday (Feb. 20) claiming that Switzerland's second-largest bank had held tens of billions of dollars of ill-gotten funds, claims based on an insider's massive data leak.

Credit Suisse rejected the "allegations and insinuations" in a statement Sunday, saying that many of the issues raised were historical, some dating back as far as the 1940s.

The investigation, coordinated by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), unites 47 different media outlets worldwide including France's Le Monde and The Guardian in Britain.

The leaked data contains an account that belonged to Helen Rivilla, an attorney convicted in 1992 for helping launder money on behalf of Ferdinand Marcos.

The Marcos accounts
As cited in The Guardian’s report on the issue titled "Revealed: Credit Suisse leak unmasks criminals, fraudsters and corrupt politicians", one of the most notorious cases in Credit Suisse’s history involved the corrupt Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda. The couple are estimated to have siphoned as much as $10 billion from the Philippines during the three terms Ferdinand was president, which ended in 1986.

The Guardian reported that “the leaked data contains an account that belonged to Helen Rivilla, an attorney convicted in 1992 for helping launder money on behalf of Ferdinand Marcos.” Despite this, the Guardian reported, she was able to open a Swiss account in 2000, as was her husband, Antonio, who faced similar charges that were subsequently dropped.

Credit Suisse was one of the known initial conduits through which the Marcoses salted away their ill-gotten wealth. The first couple was able to open accounts under the Zurich bank using the fictitious names “William Saunders” for Marcos and “Jane Ryan” in 1968, or three years after Marcos was elected president and four years before the declaration of Martial Law. As noted in a story, the presidential salary then was around $5,600, yet the Swiss bank account of the former dictator had a balance of $950,000.

The Guardian noted that the account was able to hold 8 million Swiss Francs (about P447 million in today’s exchange rate) before the accounts were closed in 2006.

This latest project, dubbed "SwissLeaks" by the OCCRP, arose out of a leak of data to Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspapers a little over a year ago.

Le Monde newspaper said the investigation showed that Credit Suisse had flouted international banking rules by holding funds linked to crime and corruption over several decades.

Credit Suisse strongly rejects the allegations and insinuations about the bank's purported business practices.

The leak included information on more than 18,000 bank accounts dating back to the 1940s and up to the 2010s belonging to 37,000 individuals or companies, said the OCCRP.

It was the largest leak ever from a major Swiss bank, it added.

'Tendentious interpretations'
The bank, in its statement Sunday, said: "Credit Suisse strongly rejects the allegations and insinuations about the bank's purported business practices."

"The matters presented are predominantly historical, in some cases dating back as far as the 1940s, and 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."

About 90% of the accounts reviewed were closed -- or were in the process of being closed -- before the press approached bank, it added. And more than 60% of them had been closed before 2015.

The OCCRP, in a statement on its website, said: "We believe the dozens of examples we have cited raise serious questions about Credit Suisse’s effectiveness and commitment to meeting its responsibilities."

It said the investigation had found dozens of "dubious characters" in the data.

They included a Yemeni spy chief implicated in torture, the sons of an Azerbaijani strongman, a Serbian drug lord, and bureaucrats accused of looting Venezuela's oil wealth.

The sums identified in the leaked accounts amount to more than $100 billion, (88 billion euros), said Le Monde.

They involve mainly developing countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America. Only one percent of the accounts concerned clients based in western Europe.

A series of setbacks
The international investigation is the latest in a series of setbacks that Credit Suisse has suffered recently.

In March 2021, the bank was hit by the collapse of Greensill Capital in which it had committed some $10 billion dollars through four funds. The implosion of the US fund Archegos cost it more than $5 billion.

And in Switzerland, a former Credit Suisse employee is among the defendants in a major corruption trial that has just started involving alleged money laundering and organised crime in Bulgaria. The bank has said it will "defend itself vigorously in court".

News media involved in the SwissLeaks investigation include The New York Times, Italy's La Stampa, Africa Uncensored in Kenya and Argentina's La Nacion. (AFP)