1MDB scandal: Switzerland's top prosecutor criticises Malaysia for not cooperating

Rachel Middleton
Najib Razak

Switzerland, which has launched an international fraud, bribery and money laundering investigation into Malaysian sovereign fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), says it is making progress in its probe despite the refusal of the Malaysian government to cooperate.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said on Wednesday (5 April) that his office, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), has been going through money laundering reports and bank documents with the help of authorities in Singapore, Luxembourg and the US.

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"It's not hopeless, in fact, it's the opposite," Lauber told reporters when presenting his 2016 annual report which outlined the OAG's activities, including its investigations into bribery linked to Brazil's oil firm Petrobras, investigations into FIFA, the world soccer body, and tracking terrorist financing.

However, he admitted that "it would have been very desirable from our perspective if Malaysia had cooperated".

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The OAG launched its investigation into 1MDB in August 2015 after discovering the Swiss financial services hub was affected by the sovereign fund's scandal. The probe is "directed against Malaysian officials and officials of the United Arab Emirates, who each held several bank accounts in Switzerland to which funds from a criminal origin allegedly flowed".

Razak criticised

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who chaired the advisory board of 1MDB, has come under heavy criticism following accusations of financial mismanagement and even corruption. He has denied all allegations and has not been charged or implicated in any investigations so far.

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OAG said that since 2015 about 100 suspicious accounts have been reported in connection with 1MDB and "several tens of millions" of US dollars have been frozen as part of the OAG probe.

"We're still confident we can successfully conclude the process ... in particular the open cases against the two banks," said Lauder, referring to Swiss private banks BSI and Falcon Bank.

The OAG also issued a warning to all potential financial crooks: "This place [Switzerland] is not a safe harbour, not for terrorists, not for money launderers, not for international corruption."

Lauder added: "We don't tolerate things like 1MDB, we don't tolerate things like Petrobas, we don't tolerate things like the whole FIFA soccer complex."

UBS 1MDB probe dropped in Switzerland

Separately, the Swiss financial body Finma said on Tuesday (4 April) it has closed its investigations into UBS Group AG in relation to 1MDB.

"Finma recently discontinued its investigation into UBS. Finma found no systematic, serious misconduct, but sent the bank a written reprimand," it said in a statement following its annual news conference.

Singapore's central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, slapped a S$1.3m fine (£74,0,000, $930,000) on UBS in October 2016 for anti-laundering breaches.

Bloomberg quotes Finma as saying that it is still investigating three private banks in relation to alleged corruption and money laundering at 1MDB.

"There are still a handful of cases related to 1MDB that have not been concluded," Mark Branson, Finma's chief executive officer told reporters in Bern on Tuesday.

"There will always be cases of money laundering. Our biggest fear is that Swiss institutions, or foreign units of Swiss banks, get involved in big money laundering cases," Branson said.

Meanwhile, the OAG said it has confiscated $1.1bn in assets linked to Petrobas oil group. It has also examined more than 1,000 Swiss accounts, including that of Brazil's former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha.

Regarding Fifa, it said that its investigations into Sepp Blatter, the former president of the football organisation, and Franz Beckenbauer are continuing.

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