Money Laundering and Its Current Status in Switzerland: New Disincentives for Financial Tourism

Peters, Rebecca G. | January 1, 1990

As a national source of tourism, the Swiss Alps are, at least in one sense, overshadowed by the banks and finance companies of Switzerland. Because of the relatively strict Swiss banking secrecy laws, the stability of the Swiss franc and the long-standing expertise of Swiss banks in currency trading, financial tourists in the past have relied with alarming consistency on Switzerland’s financial system to “launder,” i.e., introduce into the normal flow of legitimate capital, funds or assets stemming from illegal activities. Proof of Switzerland’s status as a capital for financial tourism lies in the oft-observed coincidence that the trails of world-wide drug syndicates, dictators, stock market manipulators and tax evaders invariably – if only initially – lead through Switzerland. Until recently, participation in the laundering of assets known to have stemmed from a crime was not, other than under certain rare circumstances, subject to criminal sanctions in Switzerland. In the absence of applicable legislation, and in response to pressure from Swiss bank regulators to address suspected misuses of Swiss banking services, certain voluntary measures were taken by Swiss banks in 1977 in the form of a private agreement between the Swiss Bankers’ Association (SBA) and member banks of the SBA.