February 26, 2020 / 11:04 AM / a month ago

Swiss watchdog to probe Julius Baer employees on money-laundering oversight

ZURICH, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s financial watchdog will probe the actions of individuals at Julius Baer after it reprimanded the bank for ignoring money-laundering risks in payments linked to corruption in Venezuela and world soccer body FIFA.

FINMA Chief Executive Mark Branson said the regulator would look at the behaviour of individuals at the Swiss private bank, with employment bans among the possible punishments for those found to have breached regulations.

In a highly critical report last week, FINMA said there had been scores of failings at Switzerland’s third-largest listed bank, such as its acceptance of a 70 million Swiss franc ($71 million) transfer for a Venezuelan customer in 2014 despite knowing he was accused of corruption.

FINMA declined to comment on specific individuals or give a time-scale for how long its investigation may last.

“We will now address questions about the responsibility of individuals in a second step,” Branson told the Aargauer Zeitung newspaper in an interview on Wednesday.

“If we identify serious violations of supervisory law, let’s see if there are members of management who bear direct causal responsibility for these errors.”

Julius Baer declined to comment on the investigation.

The shortfalls in combating money laundering identified by FINMA happened between 2009 and 2018, largely during Boris Collardi’s tenure as chief executive. Collardi, who has since left to join non-listed Pictet, declined to comment.

Last week, FINMA told the bank to improve its controls and appointed an auditor to oversee the group. Still, it did not make use of its power to demand the return of profits linked to wrongdoing.

The regulator has no powers to fine or imprison people but can ban individuals from working in the Swiss financial sector.

Since being established 11 years ago, FINMA has banned 56 people, with the measure proving “effective, even preventive”, Branson said.

He added that such bans could be imposed “regardless of persons or the size of institutions”, adding: “We have already enforced them against CEOs, heads of the legal department, board members or members of management.”

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Pravin Char

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