A self-proclaimed whistle-blower has leaked data linked to over 18,000 Credit Suisse bank accounts, worth over $100 billion in total, to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The data pertains to accounts opened from the 1940s up until the late 2010s. The bank's current operations, however, are not included in the leak.
Süddeutsche Zeitung passed the information on to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a nonprofit journalism organization, resulting in more than 163 journalists from 48 media outlets in 39 countries worldwide joining the investigation into the leaked account information. Credit Suisse is the second-largest bank in Switzerland, and it has been in business for over a century and a half.
Although Switzerland ranks as one of the countries with the highest freedom-of-speech index according to Reporters Without Borders, Swiss banks have a long reputation of hiding information – protecting the secrets of the world's wealthiest people, and any clue how they came into that wealth. The country has nurtured and promoted the discretion of its banks over centuries, which has, beyond doubt, helped promote the buildup of wealth within them.
Switzerland has the famous article 47 of the Swiss Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks, in force since 1934. This law, widely known as the banking secrecy law, protects the confidential information entrusted to the bank, with a possible five-year prison sentence for anyone who breaches it. The law is worded to make any journalist think twice about exposing any Swiss banks' (or its clients') wrongdoings. That's probably the reason none of the above-mentioned journalists involved in the investigation are from Switzerland – and why Swiss citizens can only read about the Credit Suisse controversy in the foreign press.
Switzerland even strengthened the banking secrecy law in 2015, and extended it to any third party who might profit by disclosing information that had come from within a Swiss bank. Before that, the law applied only to bankers and other inside employees.
The pretext of protecting financial privacy is merely a fig leaf covering the shameful role of Swiss banks as collaborators of tax evaders.
Over the last few years, the global exchange system combating tax evasion did push Switzerland to force its banks to start sharing client data with foreign authorities – which some called the end of Swiss banking secrecy. Nevertheless, the latest Credit Suisse data exposure showed that the bank was still ignoring most of its parent country's requests – continuing to serve many heads of state, notorious businessmen, and human rights offenders, among others. This extraordinary latest disclosure may be the actual turning point, however.
If you can't trust a Swiss banker, what's the world come to?
The bank, on the other hand, rejects all "allegations and insinuations" in the case. The main arguments of Credit Suisse are that many of the issues raised in the investigations were in the past – some being over 70 years old; and that 90 percent of the problematic accounts have since been closed. Credit Suisse suggests that these allegations "appear to be a concerted effort to discredit not only the bank but the Swiss financial marketplace as a whole".
Efforts in the battle against money laundering have been continuously boosted and strengthened in recent years. Dubious money is not of interest to the Swiss financial sector, which sees its reputation and integrity as key.
Upon the Credit Suisse Secrets investigation, the European People's Party (EPP) declared that the findings "point to massive shortcomings of Swiss banks when it comes to the prevention of money laundering". Markus Ferber, the EPP group's spokesman said: "When the list of high-risk third countries in the area of money laundering is up for revision next time, the European Commission needs to consider adding Switzerland to that list".