Credit Suisse has had an extremely difficult year already, but on Sunday, dozens of respected newspapers and other media organizations from around the globe dealt Switzerland's second-largest bank by assets a major blow: releasing reporting on leaked banking records involving 18,000 clients considered "sensitive" for their ties to corrupt government officials, Middle Eastern autocrats or foreign spymasters.
"Suisse Secrets" - as the leak is being called - was coordinated by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the same organization that spearheaded "the Pandora Papers" and the "Pegasus Project", two earlier major leaks involving topics ranging from official corruption to illicit software-enabled surveillance. Like "Pandora" and the "Panama Papers" leaks, the records exposed in "Suisse Secrets" are mostly financial data, like bank account information, as well as evidence of internal red flags that were routinely raised - and routinely ignored.
The statistics from the leak are staggering: 18K accounts, $100 billion in aggregate assets, some of the accounts dated back to the 1940s, but even the most recent details date to the mid-2010s, allowing Credit Suisse's PR team enough plausible deniability to insist that most of the accounts exposed in the leak have already been closed.
Clients identified in the leak included easily identifiable leaders like Jordan's King Abdullah II as well as shadowy Pakistani intelligence chief General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan.
Before we break down the findings of the report, it's worth noting that a CS spokeswoman said the bank "strongly rejects" the reports' characterization of the bank's "business practices."
Candice Sun, a spokeswoman for the bank, said in a statement that “Credit Suisse strongly rejects the allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices.” She said many of the accounts in the leak date back decades to “a time where laws, practices and expectations of financial institutions were very different from where they are now."
Ms. Sun said that while Credit Suisse can’t comment on specific clients, many of the accounts identified in the leaked database have already been closed. “Of the remaining active accounts, we are comfortable that appropriate due diligence, reviews and other control related steps were taken, including pending account closures,” she said.
Ms. Sun added that the leak appears to be part of “a concerted effort to discredit the bank and the Swiss financial marketplace, which has undergone significant changes over the last several years.”
Switzerland's banking secrecy laws have long made it a haven for stashing ill-gotten gains. Back in 2014, however, US authorities started cracking down on American customers of Swiss banks, and eventually, CS struck a settlement where it paid billions in restitution. But the DoJ and Senate Finance Committee are investigating whether Americans continue to hold unregistered assets at the bank. Meanwhile, it recently went on trial for helping a Bulgarian wrestling star/cocaine trafficker launder millions.
Without further ado, the following are some of the individuals named in the leak:
- Nervis Villalobos - a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy, CS opened an account for Villalobos in 2011 into which he deposited millions despite red flags from compliance that the money had resulted from public corruption.
- Alaa and Gamal Mubarak - the sons of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, Alaa and Gamal held six accounts at various points including one containing nearly $200 million in 2003.
- King Abdullah II of Jordan - one of the few officials in the leaks who remains in power, had six accounts, including one whose balance exceeded $224 million.
- General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan - A Pakistani intelligence chief from the 1980s who helped funnel US arms and money to the mujahideen soldiers fighting an insurgency against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan and the Soviet military. Interestingly, in 1985, the same year President Ronald Reagan called for more oversight of the aid going into Afghanistan, an account was opened in the name of three of General Khan’s sons. Years later, the account would grow to hold $3.7 million.
- Saad Kheir - the head of Jordan’s intelligence agency, opened an account in 2003, the same year the US invaded Iraq, that would eventually hold $21.6 million.
- Billy Rautenbach - a notorious mining magnate who was eventually sanctioned by the US for his role in financing the violent outbursts around Zimbabwe's 2008 election. The accounts were opened weeks before a mining deal funneled $100 million to the government of former Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe and his government, according to the OCCRP.
- Rza and Seymur Talibov - the sons of an Azerbaijani strongman received roughly $20 million in suspicious wire transfers.
- Rodoljub Radulović - a.k.a. Misha Banana, the Balkan gangster and drug smuggler controlled two accounts at Credit Suisse, with one holding almost 3.4 million Swiss francs.
Readers looking for a more complete breakdown can find one on the OCCRP's site here.
Of the dozens of news organizations who were provided documents from the "Suisse Secrets" leak, none were Swiss. This is by design since Switzerland has strict laws barring journalists from writing about leaked bank records.
Those bank secrecy laws cut both ways.