Hi Reddit,

This is the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of journalists who recently published one of the largest-ever investigations into the world of Swiss banking. It's called Suisse Secrets.

The project is based on a leak of 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago. Our German colleagues then shared the records with OCCRP to help coordinate the reporting effort, which has received contributions from 163 journalists from 48 media outlets across 39 countries.

Suisse Secrets does more than just raise questions about a specific bank. It reveals how Swiss law allows institutions like Credit Suisse to hide poor institutional compliance for many years behind a veil of secrecy.

From u/occrp, we have Co-Founders Drew Sullivan and Paul Radu, Deputy Editor-in- Chief Julia Wallace, Engagement Editor Charles Turner, and the Coordinator of Suisse Secrets, Antonio Baquero.

Joining us from Süddeutsche Zeitung is investigative journalist u/BastianObermayer.

We'll be answering live from 12pm until 2pm EST

It’s time: Ask us Anything!

Proof: Here's my proof!

EDIT 20:31 CET -- We're going to end things here. Thank you so much for your insightful questions. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to learn about our other AMAs and webinars. https://mailchi.mp/occrp/subscribe-newsletter

EDIT March 3 13:16 CET -- Answered a few more questions that bubbled to the top. Ending things here for real now. Thanks again!

Comments: 229 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

EmeryMonroe128 karma

Do you have any estimations on how many of these accounts are still relevant today? Switzerland has reformed some of its laws around banking in the last decade and uses international automatic exchange of banking information since 2017. The government claims your data aren't as relevant anymore because this lies all in the past and the Swiss financal market is clean nowdays. What's your opinion on that?

Thanks a lot!

OCCRP10 karma

We know that many of the accounts in the Credit Suisse leak were active well into the last decade. We have also confirmed that some accounts are still active. Proof of this is that Swiss prosecutors have charged this bank for helping launder drug money. And it is a case prior to many that we talked about in the project.
Our leak, as stated by the bank itself, only covers a small portion of Credit Suisse's total clients. If we obtained a larger leak, we might have been able to find additional problematic clients.
We verified the veracity of these accounts; we have always acted on the basis of public interest. The findings we’ve published, although it may not seem that way to the bank, are relevant. Stalled court cases have been reopened and institutions such as the European Parliament are calling on Switzerland to take action to end this opacity.

The bank says it's cleaned up its practices numerous times. Hopefully that’s true. The problem is that it has said that in the past and yet many of these clients remain as customers. — Antonio Baquero

questionmarkstudi112 karma

What’s the most fucked up thing you’ve had to cover?

OCCRP384 karma

Wow. That’s a tough one for people who cover organized crime. We did a story on a medical examiner many years ago that used to offer families “murder or suicide or natural causes”. He also would come up with findings that matched whatever he needed – which was often in support of the government which was quite corrupt. There was a prosecuting judge who was working on a case about the local police being involved in drug trafficking. She was going to file charges. But then one night she died. Our corrupt medical examiner came up with the following ruling. He ruled that she came home. Made a hair appointment for the morning. Made dinner and ate it with her daughter. Packed for a trip the next evening. Picked up the garbage to take it outside. Opened the door. Leaned down and committed suicide by hand grenade. It was one of the most outrageous rulings I ever saw. He was promptly promoted to chief medical examiner in charge of war crimes cases. In another case, he used the old “floating couch” scenario. In order to prove that a bullet came from the door and not the window, he traced the bullet's path through a couch that was floating off the ground at a 45 degree angle in the middle of the room. It made no sense but not a word was mentioned. He is still working today I think. Crime does sometimes pay, at least in Bosnia and Herzegovina. - Drew Sullivan

westparkmod78 karma

How much do Swiss sanctions hurt Putin specifically? Is there any idea how much he has in the Swiss banking system?

OCCRP163 karma

The fact that Switzerland reversed course and adopted the sanctions is a very important move. ​​We don't know for sure how much money Putin personally has in Swiss bank accounts but we do know that some of his closest associates and backers, including the ones involved in the Magnitsky case, keep money in Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss National Bank estimated that more than $11 billion in Russian money were kept in Swiss banks in 2020. We’ve seen some of this money while investigating the Laundromats —large-scale money laundering operations that involved global banks. Besides the money, Switzerland also holds a lot of real estate for Russian officials and oligarchs while the Geneva Freeport is a storage place for some of the most expensive art in the world - some of it owned by Russian business people close to Putin. I should also point out to Sergey Roldugin, whom we exposed together with u/ICIJ as Putin’s moneyman, who used Swiss lawyers to create complex financial and business structures. Roldugin was just sanctioned himself and the combination of the Swiss sanctions and EU wide sanctions will hit these opaque structures, will impact Swiss law firms and might hurt a lot of high level business interests. Last but not least, Switzerland is a big hub for Russia’s oil trading activities so the impact will be felt there, as well. All of this will ultimately come home and hurt Putin’s standing with his oligarchs as well as Russia’s ability to avoid sanctions. — Paul Radu

b00nish36 karma

In Switzerland we sometimes hear the narrative that our banks nowadays have become rather clean in comparison, while most of the money-laundering and tax-evasion is now done in other places. Like in typical offshore-havens like Panama, Cayman Islands etc. but also in Delaware, USA or Ireland. It is even claimed that some of our neighbors in fact have more bank secrecy now than we do.

Can you say anthing about how realistic that narrative is?

OCCRP6 karma

This narrative is right in that Switzerland is not the world’s most opaque jurisdiction. To use one of the examples you offered, Delaware provides more corporate secrecy than Switzerland in some ways, especially when it comes to registering a company. But when it comes to legal protections of leaked data, I think Switzerland has Delaware beat. Switzerland’s notorious banking secrecy law, known as Article 47, criminalizes the disclosure of confidential banking information. There’s a reason why there wasn’t a Swiss media partner working on Suisse Secrets. Swiss journalists who obtained and published this data could have faced a five-year prison sentence.
Also, there are certainly other tax havens in Europe. But the European Union has slowly been making a push for greater transparency. One success story was Luxembourg after the historically secretive jurisdiction established a public company register in 2020 after facing scrutiny from the bloc. The EU now appears ready to apply pressure to Switzerland.
After the publication of Suisse Secrets, three of the largest groups in the European Parliament said they support moving Switzerland to the high-risk list for money laundering.

This will be our last answer! Thanks all! — Charles Turner

gidawhkh32 karma

How did you decide who to report on and who not to report on from the 18,000 accounts in the leak?

OCCRP68 karma

We started from the premise that it’s not a crime to have a bank account, in Switzerland or anywhere else. Most of the 30,000+ account-holders in our data set probably did nothing wrong, and it would be journalistically and morally wrong for us to expose their private banking information. So we looked for cases where we felt that the public interest in exposing someone’s Swiss holdings *clearly* outweighed their right to privacy — because they were criminals, accused money launderers, or high-ranking politicians.

We also pursued stories about ongoing criminal cases involving corruption or money laundering, in which prosecutors or other authorities told us that not being able to “follow the money” was hurting their ability to investigate. For example, we did a story in Serbia about an accused drug lord known as Misha Banana. Prosecutors had known he had one Swiss bank account (which he used to launder millions of dollars’ worth of drug money), but had no idea about a second one we turned up. They said the new information would directly impact the case. We also wrote about Pakistani tax evaders, the children of an Azerbaijani strongman, and the family of Kazakhstan’s new president, who has publicly pledged to address wealth inequality but never mentioned his wife’s Swiss bank account.

There were lots of tough calls for us in this project, people who turned up in the data who were tantalizingly interesting, but we just couldn’t justify writing about. So we didn’t. Unlike with other projects based on big leaks, we decided not to do stories on celebrities, sports stars, actors, and people of that ilk. We don’t think it’s news that they’re rich. Above all, we tried to ensure that all the stories we pursued fed into the greater goal of illuminating the role that the Swiss banking sector plays in the global financial system — the fact that it’s the kind of place where strongmen, tax evaders, and drug lords like to keep their money. - Julia Wallace

KicketyPricket24 karma

Hi, I just wanted to applaud you for the work you did in bringing these leaks to light.

Although the focus of your report is on the Swiss banking culture, I'm curious as to your thoughts on whether this could have wider repercussions to the regulatory environments in the UK or US, or beyond?

OCCRP21 karma

We firmly believe that these investigations have an impact not only on the investigated entities and their countries, but also on the entire network that facilitates the concealment of financial assets. By focusing on a specific case, such as Credit Suisse, what you are doing is denouncing a system, banking secrecy, which facilitates the entry of criminal money into the ordinary financial system. Once again it is the demonstration that opaque systems — although they use the argument of privacy — introduce money of questionable origin into the legal financial system. These funds often come from dictatorships; that is, that money has been stolen from countries that need it. – Antonio Baquero

AssociationOverall8415 karma

What is the role of KYC? Is it all just a smoke screen?

OCCRP25 karma

KYC is crucial to a clean banking system, but efficient KYC needs to be done in a smart way and in concert with other big players in the banking systems. Criminals, corrupt politicians, and the scores of lawyers serving them devise very clever money laundering constructs and have a bird eye view of the vulnerabilities in the KYC processes. Without a constant sharing of criminal/money laundering patterns and without clear processes to match financial flows against business flows and the global trade in the physical world, KYC is rendered useless. — Paul Radu

Designer-Ad-274712 karma

Hi Swiss here,

I see you're funded by the following donors:-U.S. Department of State-U.S. Agency for International Development-Open Society Foundations-Rockefeller Brothers Fund-Open Society Foundations-European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights

I have 3 questions:

  1. Do your donors influence who and what you can look into? How can we trust you when all your financing is coming from such powerful groups that seek to influence world politics?
  2. What do you think of whistleblowers like Assange and Snowden? Asking as your donors don't really seem to like those two.
  3. What got you to do an AMA right now? Surely there's a lot going on with the current situation in Ukraine, so why take the time to do this AMA? Feel like you're a shill in the current information war going on

EDIT: Bonus question: I saw you reposted this AMA only to the following country subs: r/Kyrgyzstan r/azerbaijan r/Kazakhstan r/Switzerland. Why those specifically?

OCCRP12 karma

Yes, our donors are listed on this page — we like to be as transparent as possible. We get our money from a mix of large institutional donors, governments, individuals, and some commercial revenues. No one organization gives more than 10 percent of our total budget, and most provide more like 2 or 3 percent. Our goal is to get all of our future funding from private individuals, and we are working to improve our fundraising to directly reach readers and interact more with them. But no matter what, we have very strict rules against allowing donors to have any say in the editorial voice of our organization, and we never get stories approved by donors. We are free to report on what we think is important in the manner we think is best.

Because of that, we don’t care what any of our donors think about Assange or Snowden. They are free to set their own policies, as we do.

As for your last question, we arranged to do an AMA to coincide with the publication of this project, which was a date set months ago. We still think these are important issues worth discussing.

eldarandia9 karma

I looked through your website and some of your tables list countries. I assume this is either country of citizenship, residence or business.

My question is - does this matter? In my opinion, one of the key issues with economic sanctions (here, specifically in the context of Ukraine) touted by the West is that many supposedly "Russian" oligarchs are actually citizens of other countries, in many cases Western ones. Their money is often not in Russia, but in the proverbial Swiss bank. While the flow of money into Russia can be curtailed, these economic sanctions hurt the common citizen more than the oligarchs. I am not aware of a single major campaign of economic sanctions where anything significant was achieved.

My second question is - Switzerland runs a very effective PR campaign. People tend to view Switzerland as a land of cows, chocolate, mountains and watches. The despicable actions of their banks are ignored. They also maintain "neutrality" while allowing free flow of assets to jurisdictions where these assets can be shielded. What can be done and is the EU (for example) interested in doing anything?

OCCRP18 karma

Answer to question 1: I am not sure anybody has ever really tried targeting this many people with sanctions before. There are a lot of oligarchs and enablers out there. And seldom has there been a group with just so much ostentatious wealth. So the answer is we don’t know but there are reasons to think it might work and might not. If Russia becomes an enemy of the sanctioning nation, law enforcement and intelligence agencies especially in the US have lots of tools to take away properties. In Europe it's a little harder but they can certainly tie up properties for years in litigation and court procedures. They may ask the owner to prove they could afford the property and that isn’t easy. There are reasons to believe that the ultra-wealthy will get away with at least some of their properties. They likely have good lawyers. They often have hidden these properties behind offshores and it might be hard to prove they really own it or where the money came from. In jurisdictions that are more protective of rights, they’ll likely win but not without a lot of hassle. In places like the US, they’ll likely lose.

What is interesting is how much Putin cares about this. He responded to sanctions by saying he was going nuclear. Why? Well, he ran a kleptocracy and he gave away a lot of state resources to his inner circle to get their trust and support. If suddenly those gifts were swapped up by foreign prosecutors, it would hurt his control over his inner circle. If you take away a gift its worse than never having got it in the first place. Same with wealth. So I think this is important to him and it's already having an effect as some of his oligarchs have broken from him publicly on the war. - Drew Sullivan.

Answer to question 2: The European Union must show interest in fighting against this type of practice. These financial flows of criminal money end up entering the EU financial system and contaminating it. The European Union has, first, to put an end to tax havens within its borders. There must first be a commitment to transparency. Democracy and transparency are two words that go together. Later, the EU must pressure countries in Europe, such as Switzerland and Andorra, to stop maintaining financial regulations that facilitate opacity. The governments of the European Union must understand that in order to fight corruption and organized crime it is essential to prevent them from introducing the money they obtain illegally into the legal financial system. - Antonio Baquero

yousoawesome8 karma

Why are you reporting on accounts that were created decades ago where no KYC (know your client) were in place? All activities conducted at that time were in line with the existing regulations and laws defined by legislations and regulatory entities. Is the target to create reputation damage?

OCCRP17 karma

Actually, two-thirds of the accounts in the data we received were opened in the 2000s, and many of the rest were from the 1990s. We only wrote about accounts opened before 1990 in exceptionally interesting cases, like in this story detailing how key intelligence figures in the Middle East and Pakistan were clients of Credit Suisse. Our thinking is that even if it was legal to bank, say, Pakistani spy chief Akhtar Abdur Rahman — the guy whose job it was to get CIA money into the hands of mujahideen — it’s still pretty damn interesting that Credit Suisse did it.

As investigative journalists, we’re never seeking to inflict pointless reputational damage. Our goal is to illuminate dark places. That’s why, as I mentioned in an earlier response, we didn’t release this project without carefully sifting through the bank account data to make sure we were only reporting on stories that fit our criteria — they had to be in the public interest.

And although Credit Suisse as an institution is a major part of the story, don’t forget the other part: The bank’s customers. Prosecutors and tax officials in countries like Pakistan, Germany, Bosnia, Venezuela, and Serbia told us that the information we’d discovered shed new light on old cases they hadn’t fully cracked. In other cases, we found unexplained wealth belonging to world leaders and political figures. If you were a citizen of Kazakhstan, wouldn’t you want to know that your new president — a career official — has extensive Swiss properties and other offshore holdings? If you were a Tajik living under a leader described as a “mafia kingpin,”wouldn’t you want to know that he had stashed $8 million in Switzerland? — Julia Wallace

pharmacyorc7 karma

How goddamned frustrating is it that a story of this magnitude has to share airtime with the gritty reboot of The Reagan Era?

OCCRP18 karma

We were pretty sure the Russian invasion was coming, and this made for a lot of anguished discussion among the dozens of participating outlets ahead of publication — do we go ahead? Do we hold it? If so, for how long? I personally feared we’d get *maximally* unlucky, and the war would start literally just as we hit “go.” My preference was to wait a week and see how things shook out. In fact, we ended up publishing as scheduled on Feb 20, and it was the right decision. We had a few days of breathing room before things turned really ugly.
In a larger sense, of course it’s not nice to see another story dominating the headlines — though our primary thoughts are not about that, but about our colleagues in Ukraine who are doing terrific work under frightening circumstances, and of course about all the innocent people who are suffering in this horrific, pointless war. (In fact, we’re happy with our traffic.)
But also, the two stores are not as unconnected as they might seem. #SuisseSecrets is an example of how Western banking institutions enable corruption across the world by allowing officials and criminals to launder stolen money through the West, rendering it clean and ready to sink into real estate in London, New York, or wherever.
Though there weren’t many Russians in this particular dataset, this project still exposes — and through that exposure, undermines — these secretive enablers. I’ve talked to members of the European Parliament who have told me that such projects really help them drive reform and greater transparency in the financial sector, because they create public pressure and political space for them to do that. So in a slightly abstract sense, this story still does target the kinds of structures that enable Russian officials and oligarchs to enjoy their luxuries in the West and fuels corruption at home. We have many other projects that are more specifically about Russia too. We’ll keep at it in this difficult time.
-- Ilya Lozovsky, Staff Writer and Senior Editor

altered-ego7 karma

Were any notable Russians uncovered in your investigation?

OCCRP19 karma

No, in this particular data leak we didn’t have many Russian names. That doesn’t mean that wealthy Russians don’t bank at Credit Suisse or use Swiss banks — we’re sure they do. It’s just a reflection of the data set, which represents only a small fraction of the bank’s customers.
Our data also didn’t include many accounts from the U.S., U.K, or other large countries like China. The countries included were generally ones that didn’t sign on to the Common Reporting Standard (a global tax-evasion initiative that entails the automatic exchange of banking information), and were mostly in Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia. We would have loved to get our hands on the banking information of Russian oligarchs or Chinese princelings, but you go to war with the data that you have. - Julia Wallace

lina3036 karma

Do you think the recent announcement by Switzerland that they will freeze Russian assets a) was impacted by your recent report and b) suggests they may be changing how they do business, or is just another cover for the shady stuff that they can't seem to give up?

OCCRP16 karma

There’s a combination of factors that led to Switzerland embracing sanctions and #SuisseSecrets may have played a role. The pressure on the Swiss financial systems overall has definitely increased as a result of our project but I believe the resistance and strength shown by the Ukrainians in fighting the Russian aggression was the crucial factor. — Paul Radu

Amareldys5 karma

Should banks be in the business of deciding which causes are just and which are not? Is this really a power we want them to have?

OCCRP3 karma

It is not about empowering the banks and it is not about just or unjust causes. Banks have to be responsible for who they provide their services to. A bank account may seem innocuous to the majority of citizens. It is the place where they receive their salary, where they pay their bills, etc. But for a criminal, a bank account is a precious instrument because it allows them to launder illegally obtained money, it allows him to put illicit money in the licit system.

klara23052 karma

On Kazakhstan (for example), when you see people (like former presidents kleptomaniac family) with large cash deposits do you ever try and tie in these sums to contemporary transactions elsewhere which could have fed the cash ?

OCCRP1 karma

Yes! This is the holy grail. But it’s not easy. As journalists we don’t usually have access to this kind of information. By nature, most of these leaks are fragmentary and only add up to part of the picture. But one thing we can do is cross-reference different leaks to try to create a fuller understanding of what was going on around the time these accounts were open. For example, check out our story on the sons of the ruler of Nakhchivan (a semi-autonomous exclave of Azerbaijan), who we found in the Suisse Secrets banking data. Then we looked back to the Azerbaijani Laundromat data we already had — and boom. It turned out that there had been millions of dollars’ worth of payments from the Laundromat into their bank accounts.

sanfayah2 karma

Hi appreciate your time and the quality of journalism from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung better than any Swiss newspaper. Who is the worst person having a CS account from your investigation?

OCCRP1 karma

Thanks! Not sure if I’m qualified to opine on who is the “worst” — but you can check out this interactive feature we put together, which highlights several dozen of the account-holders we found most interesting. — Julia Wallace

*Edit: Added a link

K_ariv2 karma

Hallo and thank you for your work

I'm quite unhappy with the situation that banks have so much power in our country and would like to know what actions can a citizen take to improve the overall situation. create a better law frame that condems blood money.

Has the overall law situation in the banking improved or has it gone worse the last 20 years? Some people have told me that the laws and regulation has improved a lot and with pressure from the EU and america but all those leaks and papers really made me doubt of the situation.

OCCRP7 karma

It is difficult to get a global picture of whether the situation has improved or not. Every time we get a leak, we tend to discover serious problems that enable the corrupt and criminals to hide their money.

International journalistic investigations like Suisse Secrets not only uncovers illegal activities, they generate public awareness that the banking sector has not fully complied with rules. One of the most important rules it to not be a recipient of criminal money. If a bank accepts dirty money, it has become — to some extent — an accessory to those crimes. Fostering public opinion that does not tolerate this behavior from financial institutions is essential to ensure that the legal framework changes and favors transparency. — Antonio

allcooll1 karma

Are there any brazilian names on the report?

If there are, could you please report all brazilian names on your site? I'm asking that because brazilian journals hide this from the public.

OCCRP4 karma

As mentioned up-thread, we’re not going to be releasing the Suisse Secrets data wholesale, because it contains many innocent people’s private banking information. Because it’s so sensitive, when we received the leak we decided to work only with trusted media partners in the countries where there were many names — we used their expertise to find stories that were in the public interest.
Journalists are pretty rapacious about pursuing a story — we’d never leave a great one sitting in the mud if we could help it — so if there are no stories from a given country, it’s almost certainly because we didn’t find interesting information in the leak about that country that we felt to be in the public interest. - Julia Wallace

atlantic1 karma

I am sure many of these clients are unsavory and should never been able to get a bank account in Switzerland, but did this expose in any way balance their right to privacy - i.e. was that a factor at all? Would you stand behind the statement that each of these 18,000 accounts were looked at individually? Many of them are 'hiding' less in value than you average 1 bedroom flat in a city like Zurich.

OCCRP3 karma

Yeah, actually I would! Obviously common sense plays a role here. We didn’t literally sit down and Google every single name that appeared in our data. (Actually it’s more like 30,000 names on 18,000 accounts.) We gave the data from each country to local journalists who already know the key figures in those areas — who’s interesting and who’s not. Then we all looked for names we knew, and investigated from there. For example, we worked with excellent Venezuelan journalists who recognized the names of dozens of people involved in embezzling money from the state oil company and all sorts of other financial scams, people who are definitely not household names to me. In Italy, our local partner quickly spotted a man investigated for laundering ’Ndrangheta money. Relying on local knowledge is one of the most important (sometimes overlooked) forms of journalistic common sense.

There were lots and lots of people we didn’t put into our stories because of the right to privacy that you mention. I talked about this upthread. We really did agonize over this in some cases, but we tried to be conservative in our editorial judgment and refrain from writing about people’s financial dealings unless there was truly a compelling public interest in doing so. We focused hard on political figures and criminals. It’s possible we missed some stories, but I do think we can be fairly sure that we didn’t expose the private banking data of everyday people.

atlantic-5 karma

We didn’t literally sit down and Google every single name that appeared in our data

I'd say Googling at least the names would have been pretty basic due diligence. In theory of course there should have been some proper investigations before publishing all those names and accounts vs relying on someone who knows someone. But what do I know!

OCCRP1 karma

Not sure if you have misunderstood, but we did not publish all the names or the account holders. We only published information about people who we deemed as in the public interest.

OCCRP1 karma

Not sure if you have misunderstood, but we did not publish all the names or the account holders. We only published information about people who we deemed as in the public interest.

NeoWereys1 karma

Hi, did you gather any information relating sustainability : environmental harm, clear brake of human rights, any discussion or anything that might make it clear how CS thinks about sustainability in general? I know it's not directly connected with what you reported but I'm asking for my research on sustainability in banks and data in this field is very very scarce. Thanks.

OCCRP1 karma

Unfortunately, we didn't find any information about Credit Suisse's sustainability policies. Perhaps this story on the bank's role in a platinum mine deal might be of interest.

Glittering_Version470 karma

Could you do a story on the horrible, hushed up risks and side effects of vasectomies sometime?

OCCRP2 karma

We don't have a ton of visibility on this issue. That said, if you have evidence of corruption or organized crime, you can always securely send it to OCCRP journalists using our SecureDrop service. We take your privacy seriously :)