In February 2022, an anonymous whistleblower leaked data from Credit Suisse revealing that the bank opened accounts for and served numerous individuals with criminal ties, including sanctioned businessmen and human rights abusers. A year later, Swiss media is reporting that Switzerland’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office is seeking to identify the whistleblower in order to charge them with economic espionage.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPC) opened an investigation into the whistleblowing after Credit Suisse filed a complaint. “Since economic espionage is considered a political offense in Switzerland, the MPC pointed out that it requires the authorization of the Federal Council and the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) in order to proceed,” OCCRP reports. “The FDJP has reportedly already given their consent.”
The data leaked by the whistleblower included information on more than 18,000 bank accounts, collectively holding more than $100 billion. According to the New York Times, “among the biggest revelations is that Credit Suisse continued to do business with customers even after bank officials flagged suspicious activity involving their finances.” The Times reports that these customers included multiple individuals “accused of being involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy surrounding Venezuela’s oil company” and “a Zimbabwean businessman who was sanctioned by U.S. and European authorities for his ties to the government of the country’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe.”
The Suisse Secrets leak increased scrutiny of the Swiss banking system and renewed calls for stronger anti-money laundering laws. In May 2022, however, a Swiss parliamentary commission voted “not to strike down the controversial article 47 from the country’s banking secrecy law that has been criticized by the UN, journalists and human rights advocates as violating press freedom,” according to OCCRP.
In contrast, since Suisse Secrets occurred, the United States passed a landmark anti-money laundering whistleblower law with a transnational reach. The law has been described as “the most important transnational anti-corruption whistleblower law.”
The Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Whistleblower Improvement Act was signed into law by President Biden on December 29. The Act offers mandatory whistleblower awards and anti-retaliation protections to individuals who disclose money laundering and sanctions violations. While the AML of Act of 2020 established an AML whistleblower program, loopholes in the legislation undermined the program. The AML Whistleblower Improvement Act addresses these problems.
The Credit Suisse case is not the first time the Swiss government has chosen to go after a banking whistleblower. UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld has detailed the hostile culture of whistleblower retaliation in Switzerland and called for the country to reform its whistleblower legislation. Furthermore, a recent report found that retaliatory prosecution, loyalty oaths and an “intelligence system” comprised of business and political elites continue to severely limit the freedom of people in Switzerland to safely report corruption.