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Ambassador’s wife tied to money laundering

The wife of a former Swiss ambassador is implicated in a money-laundering case under investigation by Spanish police that allegedly involves a Chinese mafia network and two Geneva banks, according to a TV news report.

Ambassador's wife tied to money laundering
Photo: Europol

The spouse of the diplomat, identified as Madame G, is suspected of passing envelopes, each containing around 200,000 euros in cash, to another woman who was arrested last year in Spain, Radio Télévision Suisse reported on Thursday night.

Madame G., who cannot be identified because of Swiss privacy laws, received the money and passed it on to the other woman, RTS said.

The exchanges of money occurred at various spots, including the Mandarin Oriental and Métropole hotels in Geneva, and a pharmacy in the city, the report said.

In at least one case, it appears that Madame G. received 500 euros for her services.

The wife of the retired ambassador, who is reportedly active in the diamond business, admitted to having transmitted the money when contacted by RTS.

But she denies knowing that she was doing something illegal, her lawyer is quoted as saying.

The lawyer said she naively thought she was providing a service to someone she knew.

The lawyer added that her husband of 20 years, currently on a mission in Africa, was unaware of his wife’s activities.

Spanish police obtained information by intercepting phone calls made by a member of the money-laundering ring to the former ambassador’s wife between December 2011 and March 2012, RTS said.

Reporters from the TV network obtained transcripts of the conversations.

The woman is suspected of being involved in an affair involving a group of Chinese in Spain who are suspected of laundering millions of euros through Geneva banks.

The Spanish police investigation, dubbed “operation Emperador”, has already implicated the HSBC bank in Geneva and Lombard Odier, a Geneva private bank.

Madrid has sought help from Swiss justice authorities, who have requested further information on the subject, RTS reported.

Lombard Odier has issued a statement stating that one of its employees had left the bank following an internal investigation.

The investigation concluded that “a certain number of internal regulations” were violated, the private bank said.

RTS reported this week that an employee suspected at HSBC is no longer working there, information that was not confirmed by the bank.

In a statement, HSBC said an internal investigation was under way and had not yet been concluded.

HSBC said the investigation was initiated as soon as it became aware that one of its employees had been cited in the affair, and was not undertaken at the behest of authorities.

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MONEY LAUNDERING

Swiss bank exec pleads guilty in $1.2 bn Venezuelan laundering scam

A former Swiss bank manager pleaded guilty in a US court on Wednesday for his role in a $1.2 billion money laundering scheme involving Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, the Justice Department announced.

Swiss bank exec pleads guilty in $1.2 bn Venezuelan laundering scam
Matthias Krull is a former employee of Swiss private bank Julius Bär. File photo: AFP

Matthias Krull, 44, a German national and Panamanian resident, was one of a ring of conspirators and he admitted the scam began in late 2014 with “a currency exchange scheme that was designed to embezzle around $600 million from PDVSA,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

PDVSA was the crown jewel of Venezuela's imploding economy and remains virtually the only source of hard currency for the embattled government. But it also has made the company a target of theft and graft.

The Justice Department said the stolen fund were “obtained through bribery and fraud.”

The conspiracy in 201 doubled to $1.2 billion in funds embezzled from PDVSA. Krull, at the time a banker with Switzerland's Julius Bär private bank, became involved in 2016 when another member of the ring asked him to help launder the proceeds. 

They used Florida real estate and “sophisticated false-investment schemes to conceal that the $1.2 billion was in fact embezzled from PDVSA,” the statement said.

He pleaded guilty in a Florida court to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced October 29th.

Krull's co-conspirators “include former PDVSA officials, professional third-party money launderers, and members of the Venezuelan elite, sometimes known as 'boliburgues.'”

US authorities arrested Krull in Miami last month, while Gustavo Hernandez Frieri, a Colombian, was arrested in Italy and is awaiting extradition.

The Venezuelans indicted in the case are Francisco Convit, shareholder of energy company Derwick Associates; Carmelo Urdaneta, former petroleum and mining ministry legal advisor; Abraham Ortega, ex-PDVSA staffer; and Jose Vicente “Chente” Amparan, a businessman and “professional money launderer” with links to Spain and Malta.

Venezuela's economic freefall continues, with hyperinflation expected to soar to one million percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

On Tuesday, President Nicolas Maduro introduced a new currency, dropping five zeros and devaluing the “sovereign bolivars” by 96 percent.