BERN: Thousands of so-called “politically exposed persons”, or PEPs — a category that includes heads of state and other top officials — hold Swiss bank accounts, a Swiss foreign ministry official said on Monday.
Swiss authorities estimate that “there are thousands of PEPs (with accounts) in Switzerland, not hundreds,” Valentin Zellweger, who heads the ministry’s Directorate of International Law, told reporters.
Switzerland has repeatedly been embarrassed by revelations, splashed across front pages worldwide, of global political heavyweights hiding funds — sometimes embezzled from public coffers — in the Alpine nation’s famous banks.
But the country has not taken such scandals sitting down: it has been freezing suspicious assets for a quarter of a century. By the end of this year, Bern aims to finalize a law aimed at simplifying the process of freezing and unblocking such funds.
In total, Switzerland has since 2003 returned a total of around $1.8 billion embezzled by Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, the late Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, former Peruvian spy chief Vladimir Montesinos, Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti and others.
That is more than any other country has returned and represents a quarter of the $4-5 billion in assets restituted globally, Swiss authorities said last year. The country has meanwhile recently seized around $400 million in connection with a massive corruption probe targeting Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras.