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The Swiss Government has signaled to amend the banking act for press freedom in the finance sector following revelations that criminals can wash their illegal gains through banks with minimal fear to get exposed.
The Federal Council of Switzerland received a motion to discuss the current laws in order to “guarantee freedom of the press in matters relating to the financial center.”
The country’s Banking Act, which was initially enacted in March 1935, does not mention press freedom. As of right now, there’s a punishment of up to three years in jail for the one who “discloses information about bank customers to other people.”
Even journalists who reveal criminal activity or other wrongdoings connected to Switzerland’s financial sector that is of urgent public importance are subject to this. As a result, Switzerland has long been criticized for its obstacles to punishing corrupt officials and criminals who use Swiss banks for laundering their cash.
However, following the publishing of Suisse Secrets, OCCRP and its partners exposed how the bank Credit Suisse had deliberately accepted the business of dishonest officials, fraudsters, spies, and dictators, providing safe haven for at least US$8 billion of their illicit riches.
However, no Swiss journalists or newspapers were allowed to take part in the probe for fear of drawing the ire of the nation’s financial titans and the very high probability of prosecution.
“Switzerland simply does not respect European legal standards on freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” said the General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutiérrez. “It favors the particular interest of bankers over the general interest. The necessary public debate is confiscated,” he stated, adding that Switzerland does not follow the standard set by the European Court of Human Rights. “This practice is worthy of the worst authoritarian states. It must be stopped.”
An AML Expert at Transparency International, Maíra Martini, also commented that “the Suisse Secrets investigations prove once again that banks cannot be trusted to police themselves” and that “waiting every six months for the next drop of incriminating papers is not an effective practice.”
However, the inquiry has garnered the anticipated response, and Switzerland’s top officials have paid attention. The Green Party of Switzerland stated that the parliament isn’t doing enough to combat financial fraud and added that “Switzerland must no longer be the place where autocrats, dictators, and criminals from poorer countries hide their money.”
According to the motion, “But now, should the government vote to amend the Banking Act, the country’s authorities—financial or otherwise—will not be able to impede the freedom of the press with threats of legal action when the work of the press is carried out sincerity.”