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Credit Suisse faces trial in drug-tied money laundering case

GENEVA (AP) – A Swiss criminal court opened a trial yesterday on charges that Credit Suisse failed to do enough to stop money laundering linked to drug trafficking by a Bulgarian criminal organisation, which employed a wrestler who once hauled millions in currency by car to Switzerland.

The case against the bank in federal criminal court, in the southern city of Bellinzona, centres on charges that it “did not take all necessary measures to halt the infraction of money laundering” by one of its employees, according to a summary from the court announcing the start to the proceedings.

As per Swiss criminal court cases, the defendants – both individual and corporate – were not named to protect their privacy. But Swiss prosecutors identified Credit Suisse by name in an indictment announced in December 2020.

The indictment, which centred on a former manager at the Swiss bank and two members of the criminal ring, wrapped up a yearslong investigation into allegations of wrongdoing that appears mostly to have taken place between 2004 and 2008.

“Credit Suisse unreservedly rejects as meritless all allegations in this legacy matter raised against it and is convinced that its former employee is innocent,” the Swiss bank said in a statement yesterday, adding that it “will defend itself vigorously in court”.

The Swiss attorney general’s office noted how top-level athletes in Bulgaria, after the fall of communism, “turned towards other sources of income, and numerous wrestlers received approaches from mafia clans”.

One unidentified wrestler aimed to cash in by trafficking tonnes of cocaine through “mules” from South America to Europe by air and sea and then laundering the profits.

The proceeds from the drug sales, often in small denomination notes, entered Swiss bank accounts from 2004 to at least 2007 and were used to buy real estate in Bulgaria and Switzerland in particular.

The wrestler’s “main offence was committed in February 2006, when he transported the equivalent of over CHF4 million in small denomination notes hidden in his car from Barcelona to Switzerland”, prosecutors said in their indictment.

A former Credit Suisse executive in charge of business relations with the criminal organisation carried out transactions for the ring despite “strong indications that the funds were of criminal origin”, prosecutors said.

The executive, who was not identified, is accused of preventing the identification of the origin of the funds, which ultimately involved transactions of over CHF140 million (about USD150 million).

The bank has consistently rejected the allegations and has said the court could order the “disgorgement of profits” and a maximum fine of about USD5 million.