Swiss banks start to review Saudi account information

400Swiss Federal prosecutors said on Monday that the Swiss authorities were examining information provided by banks about possible suspicious transactions related to Saudi accounts.

The comments came in response to a report published in the Financial Times, which quoted unnamed sources who claimed that the Swiss banks began reporting suspicious activities within the accounts of some Saudi clients.

Lawyers acting for the banks have submitted information over the past week and expect several dozen submissions to be made in total, said two people involved in the process. The exercise reflects the banks’ nervousness about being found in breach of rules governing money laundering and corruption. 

Meanwhile, the Federal Office for Justice said that Saudi Arabia had not asked for legal help in investigating 19 prominent figures linked to corruption allegations. Last month, Saudi authorities arrested scores of members of the royal family, senior officials and prominent businessmen on corruption charges.

At the moment, the submissions have not led to any further action – such as the freezing of accounts - from Swiss authorities. According to Swiss regulations, Saudi authorities must make a formal request to access the financial data which is being analysed by authorities in Switzerland.

“As is standard procedure, incoming information is currently being assessed,” the office of the Swiss attorney-general told the Financial Times. “At this time, criminal proceedings in this connection have not been opened. ” Swiss bankers also say they have begun to prepare cash transfers on behalf of clients, as princes and business people seek to settle allegations against them. 

According to one of the FT’s sources, the reporting into Saudi accounts is similar to that conducted in other investigations, such as into FIFA or Brazilian oil company Petrobras. As part of the anti-corruption campaign, Saudi authorities have asked local and foreign banks to disclose if they have credit facilities and safe deposit boxes used by those who have been detained.

The Swiss scrutiny of Saudi accounts comes as parliament reviews whether to approve the automatic exchange of banking data with Saudi Arabia, one of 41 additional countries supposed to start receiving such information from Switzerland from 2019. The lower house of parliament in September narrowly opposed sharing data with the Saudis, the only country other than New Zealand among the 41 that did not win approval. The upper house is due to consider the Saudi matter this week.


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