Switzerland’s financial market authority has penalized Julius Baer bank for violating its obligations to fight money laundering over a nearly nine-year span.
The sanctions are related to alleged corruption linked to Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and global soccer body FIFA.
The authority, known as FINMA, cited Julius Baer for a “serious infringement of financial market law” and barred it from carrying out “large and complex acquisitions until it once again fully complies with the law.”
The bank was also ordered to revamp its hiring and management of client advisers, and adjust its remuneration and disciplinary procedures.
“FINMA has instructed Julius Baer to undertake effective measures to comply with its legal obligations in combating money laundering and rapidly finalise the measures it has already started putting in place,” the authority wrote in announcing the closure of the probe of the bank.
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“The Board of Directors must also give greater attention to its AML (anti-money laundering) responsibilities.”
The Zurich-based bank, which had 426 million Swiss francs (dollars) of assets under management at the end of 2019, said it “takes note” of the decision. The bank said it cooperated “extensively” with the authority, and that “the identified deficiencies have been addressed.”
The authority’s investigators unearthed “systematic failings” in the application of Swiss anti-money laundering law, turning up irregularities in “almost all of the 70 business relationships” that were selected due to their risk. The “vast majority” of over 150 transactions examined also showed irregularities, FINMA said.
Julius Baer didn’t do enough to determine clients’ identities, provide information about the source of their wealth, or monitor transactions properly. One adviser handling Venezuelan clients in 2016 and 2017 reaped millions in bonuses and other payouts even though the bank had spotted possible wrongdoing in connection with a case involving state oil giant PDVSA.
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“The bank’s remuneration system focused almost exclusively on financial targets and paid scant regard to compliance and risk management goals,” FINMA said.
“As an example, a CHF 70 million (about $70 million) transaction was carried out in respect of a large Venezuelan client in 2014 without the required investigations, even though the bank had learnt in the same year that the client was facing accusations of corruption,” it added.
FINMA said it was appointing an independent auditor to monitor internal reforms.
“Until it is once again fully compliant with the law, the bank is prohibited from conducting transactions such as major acquisitions that lead to a significant increase in operating risks (including but not limited to money laundering risk) or in its organisational complexity,” it said.
The authority has been involved in crackdowns on a number of corruption and money-laundering cases in recent years, also including Brazilian oil giant Petrobras and Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. It did not offer details about alleged corruption or money laundering involving Julius Baer at FIFA, the Zurich-based world soccer body.
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