New Swiss law on recovery of “illicit assets” from 1 February 2011

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Switzerland’s Federal Act on the Restitution of Assets of Politically Exposed Persons obtained by Unlawful Means (commonly referred to as the Return of Illicit Assets Act or “RIAA”) was passed by both houses of the Swiss Parliament in October 2010 and will become effective on 1 February 2011. The legislation is seen by many as marking a new era in Switzerland’s stance on asset recovery involving politically exposed persons or “PEPs”. The Swiss Federal Banking Commission in its guidelines on money laundering defines a PEP as a “person occupying an important public function”.

Over the last two decades, it has been reported that Switzerland has returned more than $1.6 billion USD held in Swiss bank accounts constituting monies which were suspected as being misappropriated by PEPs. However, Switzerland has failed to repatriate allegedly illicit funds to a number of developing states because of such states’ inability to provide the Swiss Federal Criminal agencies with adequate cooperation in the due diligence process of establishing the origin of monies deposited in Swiss bank accounts by PEPs.

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