Insufficient law enforcement for corruption and money laundering

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Alongside prevention, fighting money laundering and corruption requires repression. Yet convictions are rare, despite the numerous scandals and significant money laundering and corruption cases implicating Swiss banks and companies. Criminal investigations in the field of white-collar crime are highly complex and often take several years to carry out. In cases where convictions are handed down, the sanctions are often very mild. They rarely serve as a deterrent.

In Switzerland, money laundering and corruption (in the form of active and passive bribery) are criminal offences. Convictions for money laundering take place relatively frequently (over 5,000 convictions have been handed down since 1990), above all because they play an important role in the fight against drug-related crime – drug addicts and small fish of the drug trade are among those convicted of money laundering. On the other hand, only a small part of the convictions are made in relation to actual white-collar crimes. Convictions for active and passive bribery, particularly cases of ‘bribery of foreign officials’, are rare.

Few convictions for bribery of foreign officials…

Bribery of foreign officials has been a criminal offence in Switzerland since 1 May 2000. However, the first ten years after the crime was introduced saw few convictions of natural persons for bribing foreign officials. The statistics show that the first conviction was handed down in 2001, but then it was not until 2009 and 2010 that two individuals were convicted of this offence. It was only from 2014 onwards that there was at least one conviction per year; four and then three people were convicted in 2016 and 2017 respectively. In total, from 2000 to 2020 the Swiss criminal authorities only made 18 convictions for bribery of a foreign official.

It is however possible that the statistics do not reflect offences committed some time ago, because appeals are ongoing. Cases of convictions handed down to companies are not reflected either, because these cases are not included in the Swiss Criminal Records. The low figures conceal the fact that corruption and bribery of foreign officials are problems that need to be taken seriously not just abroad, but also in Switzerland. The statistics on verdicts only reflect the number of convictions, but this does not provide an indication of the real extent of criminal activity. It is in the interests of those involved in corruption to keep it secret, which contributes to the number of unreported cases.

…and few companies are penalised

Since the entry into force of criminal liability for companies in 2003, it has been possible for companies to be convicted of ‘organisational inadequacies’.

The first conviction of a company in Switzerland took place in 2005. The investigative authorities of the Canton of Fribourg handed down a sentence to a company in relation to a violation of the speed limit that took place in a company car. It was not possible to identify the employee who had been driving the car at the time and therefore the company was handed a fine of CHF 3,000. The company was sanctioned because it was not adequately organised to identify the person responsible.

The first conviction of a company that had failed to prevent bribery or money laundering was handed down by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) in 2011. It convicted Alstom Network Schweiz AG through a summary penalty order for organisational inadequacies, i.e. failure to prevent bribery of a foreign official. Since then, seven further companies have been convicted through summary penalty orders issued by the OAG.