Switzerland scolds bank over Angolan client’s assets, transactions
Switzerland’s financial regulators on Thursday reprimanded a boutique private bank for breaching money-laundering rules following a probe into large assets held by an Angolan customer.
FINMA, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, opened an investigation in February against Geneva-based Banque SYZ over possible violations of money-laundering rules relating to “a very important business relationship with a client from Angola”, the regulator said, without identifying the person concerned.
Earlier this month, the Gotham City investigation website, which publishes a newsletter specialising in economic crime in Switzerland, claimed that FINMA had opened an investigation into Banque SYZ regarding Angolan businessman Carlos Manuel de Sao Vicente, who was arrested by Angolan state prosecutors on Tuesday.
The Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper claimed the bank’s links to De Sao Vicente — married to a daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos — began when Banque SYZ’s acquired the Swiss activities of Royal Bank of Canada.
Swiss law requires banks to apply more stringent rules for transactions conducted by people who exercise high public functions abroad or are deemed to be close to power through their family, personal or business relationships.
– ‘High-risk transactions’ –
FINMA said Banque SYZ “did not make sufficient efforts to investigate the substantial growth in the client’s assets”, despite the client being identified as having links with so-called politically exposed persons.
The bank “did not adequately fulfil its obligations to clarify high-risk transactions by the client, which were in some cases in the tens of millions”.
“Due to these failures, FINMA has reprimanded the bank for a breach of its duty of due diligence in relation to anti-money laundering. Its money-laundering processes were inadequate with a view to this client relationship.”
However, FINMA said the bank had complied with its legal obligation by reporting the case, triggering the investigation, and had taken steps towards restoring full compliance with the regulations.
The regulator added: “Clients with funds of doubtful origin should expect to be reported to the authorities in Switzerland.”
Banque SYZ told AFP via email: “The system put in place has unfortunately turned out to be unsuitable for monitoring a specific business relationship.”
Angolan state prosecutors on Tuesday arrested De Sao Vicente over corruption claims, amid an anti-graft drive largely aimed at the former regime of Dos Santos.
De Sao Vicente, who headed a group of companies that sold insurance contracts to state oil giant Sonangol, was placed in preventative custody after some of his business assets were seized.
Swiss prosecutors in 2018 froze $900 million (769 million euros) held in accounts belonging to De Sao Vicente as part of a money-laundering investigation.