An investigation into the operations of Credit Suisse, one of the world’s biggest private banks, has exposed the hidden wealth of over 18, 000 clients involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes who held accounts in the bank for decades ranging from the 1940s to 2010s.
The information, according to the report, was leaked by an anonymous source to a German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
The newspaper subsequently shared it with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and 46 other news organisations including Nigeria’s Premium Times and the information fact-checked.
The bank, Credit Suisse was accused of repeatedly opening or maintaining bank accounts for a panoramic array of high-risk clients across the world.
One of such persons is Eduard Seidel, an employee of German industrial conglomerate Siemens, which bribed its way to lucrative contracts across the world including Nigeria.
Seidel was alleged to have used cash, luxury watches, and other gifts to curry favour with powerful Nigerians, including presidents and vice-presidents, for two decades.
He was jailed in Germany for bribing foreign officials, receiving a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine and costs of 240,000 euros.
However, during this period, Seidel was said to have stashed $41.9 million (N17.4 billion) in a Credit Suisse bank account that was active until at least 2016, almost a decade after he was found guilty. It was one of six accounts he had at the bank or its subsidiary.
“Seidel opened five of these accounts in the 1980s or 1990s when he was at the height of his powers in Nigeria. Two of the accounts were closed in December 2006, just one month after police raided Siemens’ headquarters, and shortly before his name began appearing in news reports. A fourth was closed in early 2016, and two more — including the account that contained over 54.5 million Swiss francs — continued to be active for some time beyond that,” the report said.
The German was said to have operated a company alongside a senior official from the Nigerian communications ministry. His wife also founded a company with the help of the Nigerian minister of communications. However, a lawyer to Seidel’s wife said this company had “never developed any business activity.”
Meanwhile, Seidel informed German investigators that his predecessor taught him how to win business in Nigeria using bribes, which accounted for up to 15 to 30 per cent of every contract.
“In 1991, Seidel had become a familiar face in the corridors of power in Nigeria. Over the course of two decades, he wined and dined military rulers and presidents from successive regimes.
“He visited the offices of ministers and attended weddings or holiday events with offerings of expensive gifts like Rolex and Gautier watches, or even outright cash.
“None of the senior officials in Nigeria have ever been tried for their role in the matter. Most have publicly denied ever accepting bribes.
“Seidel was a particularly frequent visitor to the office of Nigeria’s state-owned telecommunications company, NITEL. ‘Seidel was allowed access to bid documents of other contractors and in most cases, he determined the bid specifications,’ said Titi Omo-Ettu, a former engineer at NITEL, in a book about NITEL published in Nigeria.”
Seidel has since denied the allegations while Credit Suisse rejected the “allegations and insinuations”, saying in a statement that many of the issues raised were historical, some dating back more than 70 years.
While Credit Suisse has repeatedly pledged to crack down on illicit funds, following a string of scandals beginning over two decades ago with the death of an infamous Nigerian dictator, the bank had considerably failed in this responsibility.
After Sani Abacha died in 1998, it was discovered that Credit Suisse had helped stash some of the billions of dollars the dictator’s family had looted from his country.
The Swiss Federal Banking Commission found that Credit Suisse ignored anti-money laundering rules when accepting $214 million in deposits from two sons of the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.
Two years later, the Swiss Banking Association fined Credit Suisse 750,000 Swiss francs ($505,100) over its handling of Abacha family funds but the bank faced no criminal charges
Following the scandal, Credit Suisse pledged to accept in future “only those clients whose source of wealth and funds can be reasonably established to be legitimate”.
To defuse the fallout from that revelation, the bank’s then-chairman said in 2000 that it had “continuously improved … control procedures and compliance with them.”
Later that year, Credit Suisse became a founding member of the Wolfsberg Group, an international banking association assembled to curb illicit financial flows.
“The bank will endeavour to accept only those clients whose source of wealth and funds can be reasonably established to be legitimate,” read a Wolfsberg Group mission statement in 2000.
Yet Credit Suisse’s promises to clean up did little to prevent its entanglement in criminal cases for many years to come.