Leaked Swiss bank records show how Credit Suisse helped dictators, corrupt politicians, spies, and criminals hide their illicit fortunes. This is #SuisseSecrets, one of the world’s largest investigations into the world of Swiss banking.

Suisse Secrets is based on a leak of 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts, obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung SZ and shared with Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project OCCRP and 46 other media outlets.

According to the available list, there are no Sri Lankans listed in the Suisse Secrets leak. OCCRP says they will publish more leaks in the coming days.

Despite two decades of pledges by Credit Suisse to crack down on illegitimate funds, data leaked from the bank reveals that it catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties and political actors with outsized wealth.

Key Findings

  • Accounts identified by journalists as potentially problematic held over $8 billion in assets.
  • Compliance experts who reviewed journalists’ findings said many of these customers should not have been allowed to bank at Credit Suisse at all.
  • Asked why so many of these accounts existed, current and former employees described a work culture that incentivized taking on risk to maximize profits.
  • Journalists and experts say Switzerland’s draconian banking secrecy laws effectively silence insiders or journalists who may want to expose wrongdoing within a Swiss bank. A Swiss media group was unable to participate in the Suisse Secrets investigation due to the risk of criminal prosecution.
  • List

A Yemeni spy chief implicated in torture. The sons of an Azerbaijani strongman who rules a mountainous territory as his own private fiefdom. Bureaucrats accused of looting Venezuela’s oil wealth and hastening its descent into humanitarian crisis.

They come from all over the world, each associated with a different corrupt, authoritarian regime and each enriching themselves in their own way. But there is one thing that unites them: Where they kept their money.

After its luxury watches, snow-capped mountains, and superior chocolates, the Alpine nation of Switzerland is perhaps known best for its secretive banking sector. And at the heart of that sector is Credit Suisse, which over its 166-year history has become one of the world’s most important financial institutions.

With nearly 50,000 employees and 1.5 trillion Swiss francs in assets under management for 1.5 million clients, this banking behemoth is still just the second-largest bank in Switzerland, a testament to how central the banking sector is to this wealthy and comfortable nation.

But, as a new global investigation spearheaded by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and OCCRP reveals, this glittering success has its murky side.

Journalists have obtained leaked records identifying more than 18,000 accounts belonging to foreign customers who stashed their money at Credit Suisse. The records are nowhere near a complete list of the bank’s clients, but they provide a revealing glimpse behind the curtain of Swiss banking secrecy.

Over 160 reporters from 48 outlets spent months poring through the data — and found that dozens of the accounts belonged to corrupt politicians, criminals, spies, dictators, and other dubious characters. These are not obscure names, their misdeeds often identifiable through a simple Google search. And yet, their accounts — which held over $8 billion — remained open for years.


The accounts in this story are denominated in Swiss francs. Since the value of the franc has fluctuated over time, we have converted the account holdings to their historic U.S. dollar equivalents.

Credit Suisse’s clients included the family of an Egyptian intelligence chief who oversaw torture of terrorism suspects for the CIA; an Italian accused of laundering criminal funds for the infamous ‘Ndrangheta criminal group; a German executive who bribed Nigerian officials for telecoms contracts; and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who held a single account worth 230 million Swiss francs ($223 million) at its peak, even as his country raked in billions in foreign aid.

Venezuelan elites accused of plundering the state oil firm funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into Credit Suisse accounts. The money flowed during a period when widespread looting from government coffers precipitated an economic collapse that has prompted six million people to flee the country and driven others into near starvation. The bank kept its Venezuelan clients’ accounts open even as global media exposed corruption cases against many of them.

Compliance experts who reviewed OCCRP’s findings said many of these people should not have been allowed to bank at Credit Suisse at all.

“People should not have access to the system if what they are carrying is corrupt money,” said Graham Barrow, an independent expert on financial crime. “The bank has a clear duty to ensure that the funds it handles have clear and legitimate provenance.” Credit Suisse is not the only culprit. Many major banks and financial service firms have faced similar scandals over the years. Many have then pledged to reform. And yet — as projects like this one reveal — they have continued to allow dodgy clients who have enriched themselves in countries with poor legal systems and lax oversight to safeguard their wealth in some of the safest and most secure places in the world.

“The irony is that Switzerland has become the place for dirty money to go because it is pure, well-managed, reliable,” says James Henry, a senior adviser to the U.K. charity Tax Justice Network who has studied tax evasion at Credit Suisse. “The business model of taking money out of poor countries is the problem.”

Asked to comment on the findings of the Suisse Secrets project, Credit Suisse said that risk management was “at the very core of our business.” While refusing to discuss individual customers, the bank said that they were “predominantly historical” and that an “overwhelming majority” of problem accounts identified by journalists “are today closed or were in the process of closure prior to the receipt of the press inquiries.”

“As a leading global financial institution, Credit Suisse is deeply aware of its responsibility to clients, and the financial system as a whole to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are upheld,” it added.

Insider Opinions

OCCRP talked to more than a dozen former and current Credit Suisse employees to see if they could explain why the bank took on so many problematic clients. None would talk on the record, saying the bank was highly litigious against former employees, and none offered documentary proof for their comments. However, many of those interviewed mentioned the same issues, and there was consensus about some problems.

While some said compliance was diligent and had improved considerably in recent years, most talked of a highly toxic corporate culture that incentivized taking on risk to maximize profits — and bonuses.

Employees said bonuses were tied to how much “net new money” they brought in.

“The bank incentivizes a banker to look the other way with an account they know to be toxic,” said a former senior manager in private banking. “If you close a toxic account, especially a large account in excess of $20 million, the banker finds himself in a deep hole. A deep hole that is almost impossible to get out of.”

This has led to a culture, Credit Suisse employees say, where there are two sets of rules for two sets of clients: the rich and the ultra rich.

“Due diligence of customers and accounts –– say at a level of $1 million –– are very thorough,” said a former senior executive. “But when it comes to high net-worth accounts, bosses encourage everyone to look the other way and managers get intimidated about their bonuses and job security.”

In addition, very big accounts are kept so secret that only a few senior executives might know who owns them.

“When someone wants to engage in money laundering after he loots assets of the country, for example, he needs to transfer the money. So holders of big accounts go directly to the very senior managers,” he said.

The system was based on plausible deniability, said former employees. Employees are given strict rules, but the incentives are to ignore them.

“The bank’s compliance department are masters of plausible deniability,” the former senior manager said. “Never ask a question you do not want to know the answer to.”

“It’s never the bank’s fault, it’s always this bad apple employee who is responsible for something bad happening,” one manager said. The end result is a disconnect between the bank and its employees.

“The kind of people the bank attracts are mercenaries, and they all look to enrich themselves first – probably understanding that there is no real relationship with the bank. You’re only there for as long as you make money, however you make that money,” the manager said.

“You don’t need to worry about what happens eight to ten years from now, because you’re unlikely to be there. Usually that’s how long it takes for deals to blow up.”

These insider accounts echo allegations Credit Suisse is now fighting in court, in the first criminal case ever launched against a Swiss bank in Switzerland. Prosecutors say the bank allowed a group of Bulgarian cocaine smugglers to launder 146 million euros in drug money through Credit Suisse accounts.

Senior managers are accused of ignoring many warnings that their Bulgarian clients were up to no good, including the fact that they were depositing suitcases of cash – suitcases at least one other Swiss bank refused. Even after two of the criminals were assassinated and named in the media as a cocaine trafficker, the bank looked the other way.

A banker who dealt with the Bulgarians testified that Credit Suisse trained her carefully on how to present herself to potential clients and on the importance of Swiss banking secrecy, but not on compliance, the Financial Times reported this month.

As evidence, one of her compliance tests was presented in court. She had answered only a quarter of the questions correctly.

The bank was also criticized in a leaked 2017 report by FINMA, the Swiss financial regulator, which revealed a culture where senior managers were prepared to “whitewash” and “turn a blind eye” to compliance failures when a star banker defrauded lucrative clients.

“There were even attempts to gloss over the violations,” the report said.

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