Swiss banks faulted over money laundering tied to Venezuela

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland’s financial markets watchdog on Thursday said it has reprimanded and set restrictions on two Swiss banks for violating their obligation to fight money laundering in connection with clients in Venezuela, notably with links to state-run oil giant PDVSA.

Banca Zarattini & Co. SA and CBH Compagnie Bancaire Helvetique SA were found to have breached their duties to put in place adequate risk-management policy, which represented “a serious infringement of supervisory law,” the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Agency, FINMA, said in a statement.

FINMA said it was in contact with more than 30 Swiss banks over alleged cases of corruption with regard to Venezuela, and in particular PDVSA. It ultimately opened enforcement proceedings — the highest level of scrutiny possible at the authority — and wrongdoing was found at five banks including Julius Baer and Credit Suisse.

The authority said the announcement Thursday ends all enforcement proceedings against banks with regard to Venezuela and PDVSA.

It said CBH and Zarattini “cooperated well” during the proceedings and had taken steps to “remove the deficiencies in their organization in combating money laundering.”

The Associated Press reported last year that an investigation in Switzerland’s tiny neighbor Liechtenstein had identified a Swiss banker who worked at CBH as a person “in charge of transferring the funds of corrupt members of the Venezuelan government to Switzerland.”

The misconduct at Banca Zarattini took place from 2014 to 2018. FINMA said it has imposed a temporary ban on the Lugano-based bank accepting new Venezuelan clients.

Geneva-based CBH, which was found to have breached its obligations to fight money laundering between 2012 and 2020 in the case, was ordered to end all its remaining business relationships with Venezuelan clients and to review “other especially risky client relationships and terminate these if necessary,” the authority said.

“Both banks failed to carry out sufficient economic background clarifications into business relationships and transactions with increased money-laundering risks,” FINMA said. “Adequate documentation was also lacking in these areas.”

CBH said the statement from the authority confirmed that it had “already taken measures to reinforce its due diligence and control procedures,” and said in a statement that the restrictions imposed by FINMA corresponded to decisions the bank had already taken.

“Much information about our bank in relation to Venezuelan clients was disseminated in the media in recent years,” CBH said. “The result mentioned above puts an end to all speculations.”

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