Divorce & Hidden Money: How Does A Divorcing Spouse Recover Assets Concealed In A Swiss Bank Account?

The City of Zürich has a website that says “[a]s the largest city in Switzerland, Zürich is the economic motor of the surrounding region and indeed the whole country.”  This 13th post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series examines what a divorcing spouse might do if marital assets are concealed in a Zürich bank account or elsewhere in Switzerland.  The post was first published at The Asset Search Blog during 2008 and the post still provides up-to-date information.  The post analyzes ways one can interdict bank accounts & other assets hidden in Switzerland.  It quotes Swiss counsel who describes using criminal law tools; attaching (i.e. freezing) assets; seeking letters rogatory; & tipping the Swiss Money Laundering Reporting Office (“MROS”):

“As you probably know, Switzerland does not follow the common law doctrine. We do not adhere to the institution of discovery. The usual tools available to a claimant are therefore the filing of a criminal complaint, which is actually the most efficient way to get past the banking secrecy. Access to the information will be granted only if someone can be indicted. In exceptional circumstances a broader access to the information collected within the frame of the criminal investigation can be granted on a discretionary basis.

If the claimant does not wish to resort to the criminal law tools, he has the option to file an attachment. In order to obtain an attachment, the claimant must show that his case presents a close enough connection to Switzerland. He must establish that the assets are located in Switzerland and he must make a summary statement of his claim.

It is usually required that a guarantee equivalent to 10% of the claim be filed; in certain circumstances, the payment of a guarantee requirement may be avoided especially where the claimant initially filed a criminal complaint under which the same assets have been attached by the criminal judge. The combination of a criminal and civil attachment is recommended in some instances.

The administrative tools relate to money laundering regulations. A financial intermediary knowing or having reason to suspect that any assets entrusted to his custody or management are of criminal origin has a duty to report his suspicion to MROS, which is the competent authority that launches investigations in matters of money laundering. If MROS finds that there is enough evidence of criminal activity, it usually refers the matter to the competent criminal authorities who will investigate the case.

If your client already holds judgments against the defendants, he may seek to enforce the judgement on assets located in Switzerland. Furthermore, if criminal investigations have been conducted in a foreign jurisdiction, the foreign investigating magistrate can seek judicial assistance from Switzerland. This is granted very liberally.

Finally, I wish to draw your attention to the possibility of obtaining evidence [via legal assistance requests / letters rogatory] from the Hague Convention of 1970 on the obtaining of evidence in civil and commercial matters abroad, which enables to a limited extent the enforcement of pre-trial discovery requests in Switzerland. All these remedies briefly outlined may be combined depending on each particular case.”


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