Credit Suisse banker in cocaine lawsuit says killings dismissed by management

BELLINZONE, Switzerland, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Credit Suisse was made aware of murders and cocaine trafficking believed to be linked to a Bulgarian gang, but continued to handle cash which is now the subject of a criminal trial, a banker accused of money laundering has told a Swiss court in the case.

In Switzerland’s first major bank criminal trial, Credit Suisse and one of its former employees are accused of enabling a suspected Bulgarian cocaine gang to launder millions of euros, some of which in used banknotes stuffed into suitcases.

Both the bank and the accused banker deny any wrongdoing. The procedure, which began on Monday last week, continued this week and is expected to continue until early March.

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The indictment relates to the relationship that Credit Suisse and its ex-employee had with former Bulgarian wrestler Evelin Banev and several associates, two of whom are also charged in the case.

The banker, accused of helping to conceal the criminal origins of the money through more than 146 million Swiss francs in transactions, appeared before the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, southern Switzerland, with her managers who testified. The events took place between 2004 and 2008.

A Credit Suisse spokesman said the bank had denied all allegations and was confident its former employee was innocent.

Credit Suisse disputes the illegal origin of the money, a source familiar with its thinking told Reuters, saying Banev and his entourage operated legitimate businesses in construction, rentals and hospitality.

Banev is not charged in Switzerland but was convicted in Italy for drug trafficking in 2017 and in Bulgaria in 2018 for money laundering. He was arrested in September in Ukraine as countries such as Bulgaria and Romania demanded his arrest.

In Sofia, his lawyer said last week that Banev had denied any involvement in laundering money from drug trafficking through Credit Suisse.

The former Credit Suisse banker, whose identity cannot be released under Swiss confidentiality rules, said she informed her officials of the events, including two murders, but they decided to prosecute nonetheless the company.

In a June 2005 email read in court last week, a Credit Suisse banker downplayed news reports linking the murder of one of Banev’s associates a month earlier to drug trafficking.

“After the homicide, we decided to continue business relations,” the banker wrote in the email. “The said (short and vague) article linking the murder to Spanish cocaine…has not been confirmed.”

About two years later, the victim’s mother was also murdered shortly before she was due to give a statement as part of an investigation into Banev, the banker later told the court, prompting him to raise the issue with his officials.

Banev, whose lawyer declined to comment further on Thursday, was then in police custody, charged with participating in an organized criminal group that aimed to launder money.

“The reaction I had when talking to my hierarchy, the questions were: did the person kill a bank customer? No, it didn’t,” the banker told the court.

“Is she somehow related to the bank, do you know her?” she said, remembering the conversation. “I said, ‘No, I’ve never met her.’ And then the reaction was, well, what’s your problem?”

The court heard the banker received bonuses of 122,000 Swiss francs in 2006 and 180,000 francs in 2007 and 2008.

Speaking to give evidence, banker officials said this week they remembered few events at the time and said they referred the matter to the bank’s legal and compliance department in accordance with rules. internal procedures regarding the funds under investigation.

“The whole process is legal and compliant,” one of the banker’s former managers told the court. “The relationship manager is asked not to inform his colleagues, when the legal and compliance departments consider it important to inform different hierarchies, then they do so.”

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Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; written by John O’Donnell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jane Merriman

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