Swiss banking group Credit Suisse Group managed accounts for clients involved in human rights abuses, corruption and drug-trafficking, according to reports based on leaked data on more than 18,000 accounts that together held more than US$100 billion.
An anonymous whistleblower gave the information to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared the data with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a consortium of 47 media outlets including La Nación, Infobae, Le Monde, The Guardian and Miami Herald.
After months of reviewing data, La Nación noted, journalists identified that "dozens of accounts belonged to corrupt politicians, convicted criminals, criminals under investigation by the justice system, spies, dictators and other shady characters." The data covers accounts opened from the 1940s until well into the last decade, The New York Times wrote.
Among the individuals with accounts identified by the 'Suisse Secrets' investigation are a number of Venezuelan clients who have been accused of looting state oil company PDVSA.
"It was determined that more than 20 Venezuelans" linked to corruption schemes involving PDVSA had "assets of more than US$273 million in 25 Credit Suisse accounts and possibly much more," reported Venezuelan investigative journalism websites Armando.Info and Efecto Cocuyo.
Most of these accounts were opened between 2004 and 2015, they reported.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into the bank's accounts at a time when [Venezuela's] public coffers were being emptied," journalist Hugo Alcondra-Mon wrote for local daily La Nación. "The bank kept the accounts of these Venezuelan clients open, even when their involvement in corruption cases had been exposed in the media."
According to Armando.Info, one of the Venezuelans identified with secret accounts at Credit Suisse is Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan government official in the energy sector, who has been accused of money laundering and receiving bribes from foreign companies in search of contracts with PDVSA.
Credit Suisse issued a statement soon after the stories were published, saying it “strongly rejects the allegations and insinuations about the bank’s purposed business practices.” It said the information is “based on partial, inaccurate, or selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct.”
According to Armando.info, the bank did not respond to specific questions about Villalobos or other Venezuelans, although lawyers for the financial institution "rejected the assertion" that it "had inadequate due diligence procedures or facilitated financial crimes."
"Credit Suisse does not tolerate or support tax evasion, money-laundering or other illegal activities, has strict control mechanisms in place, and reviews and develops its policies on an ongoing basis," the bank's law firm, Latham & Watkins LLP, said in a letter.
Former bank employees cited in the investigation said that while the bank handles "due diligence" on average clients, "when it comes to high-net-worth accounts, the bosses encourage everyone to look the other way."