Switzerland urged to do more to fight, penalize bribery

MarketsAssociated Press

A group of mostly rich, industrialized countries said Tuesday that Switzerland should do more to prosecute companies and apply tougher penalties for bribery.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development also praised the Swiss Attorney General's office for expanding the number of cases it's investigating, pointing to a nearly six-fold increase in money laundering and bribery probes from 2011 to 2016.

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The Paris-based group, which counts Switzerland among its 35 member states, issued findings from a year-long review of the Alpine country that has long been associated with shady financial transactions and as a haven for clandestine deal-making.

The OECD, among other things, urged authorities in Switzerland to improve protections for whistleblowers, reform its rules about legal assistance with other countries and ensure bribery sanctions are "effective, proportionate and dissuasive."

Mark Branson, director of the Swiss financial watchdog Finma, told The Associated Press that his agency has "made it extremely clear that we have a very low tolerance for major money-laundering issues."

"The test as to how well we are doing as a major financial center will be the cases that maybe have their origin in the here and now," he said on the sidelines of an annual Finma news conference on Tuesday.

"What's absolutely clear is that no financial system can bring money laundering risk to zero," Branson said. "That's not possible — money laundering originates with the client."

In his prepared remarks, Branson warned of cyber risks on the financial sector, the money laundering risks of blockchain technology, and losses that investors could face in initial coin offerings, but didn't mention bribery specifically.

He called cyberattacks the "most serious operational hazard" facing Switzerland's financial system.