20 May 2021
A Swiss precious metals and gems trader stands trial on Thursday accused of knowingly buying diamonds worth $750,000 on behalf of Italian criminals to help them launder the proceeds of a $35 million tax scam.
C., as he can only be named under local reporting restrictions, knew or should have known that the money used to buy the stones was linked to Italian organized crime, Swiss federal prosecutors wrote in their January indictment.
At the time of the diamond purchases, his three alleged Italian accomplices had already been convicted and sentenced to prison in 2011 for running a VAT tax-fraud scheme that issued fake tax receipts. The case dubbed “Cambio Veloce” — Italian for Quick Exchange — by prosecutors has been run out of Lugano, an Italian-speaking financial hub in Switzerland.
The case sheds light on how criminals are turning to gems and bullion as tougher ‘know-your-customer’ rules make Swiss banks more wary of accepting large deliveries of cash, simultaneously sparking a boom in unregulated safety-deposit box businesses.
Lugano, an hour’s drive from Milan, grew rich over the decades as a hub for Italians looking to park their money outside of their home country. But the city has fallen on harder times amid an Italian crackdown on tax evasion. The number of banks in Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton has dropped by more than 40% over the past 15 years.
By Hugo Miller, Bloomberg, 20 May 2021
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