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Swiss regulator reprimand two former Julius Baer CEOs following money laundering inquiry

Two former CEOs of private bank Julius Baer were reprimanded on Thursday by Switzerland’s financial regulator after an inquiry into money laundering in Venezuela and corruption at soccer’s world governing body FIFA.

Regulator FINMA did not name the executives but former Chief Executive Boris Collardi, now a partner at Geneva wealth manager Pictet, and his successor Bernhard Hodler, confirmed they had received written reprimands.

“Although mistakes were made in the case of the two reprimanded managers, there are not sufficient indications of direct, causal responsibility for the serious violation of supervisory law,” regulator FINMA said in a statement.

Hodler led the 131-year-old Zurich bank from 2017 to 2019 before retiring. He held the post of chief risk officer from 2009 to 2017.

A reprimand falls short of FINMA’s most severe sanction of banning an executive from working in the financial industry for up to five years.

Julius Baer, Switzerland’s third-largest bank, was heavily criticised by FINMA last year after the regulator uncovered widespread failings.

FINMA ordered the bank to improve its controls and appointed an auditor to oversee the group which it said had fallen “significantly short” in combating money laundering between 2009 and early 2018.

Those shortcomings were linked to alleged cases of corruption surrounding Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., a state-owned oil company in Venezuela, and separately corruption at FIFA.

Among the allegations levelled at the bank was its acceptance of a 70 million Swiss franc ($78.88 million) transfer for a Venezuelan customer in 2014 despite knowing he was accused of corruption.

The FIFA case relates to Jorge Luis Arzuaga, an Argentine who worked for Julius Baer, who admitted facilitating payments from a sports marketing company to FIFA officials.

As a result of its findings, FINMA ordered Julius Baer to change how it recruited and managed client advisors and was banned from carrying out any major acquisitions.

In addition to the two former CEOs, FINMA said it has launched enforcement proceedings against one other Julius Baer executive.

The regulator dropped its inquiries into a fourth manager after the executive agreed not to take a managerial position at a Swiss bank in the future.

A spokesman for Julius Baer said the matter related to former employees who have all left the bank.

The bank will give an update on how it has improved its procedures when it announces its annual results on Feb. 1.

Julius Baer last year set aside nearly $80 million to cover expected fines arising from the FIFA case after coming to an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Pictet said it stood behind Collardi, who has kept a low profile since he joined the bank in 2018.

“We have full confidence in his work at Pictet,” a spokesman said.

Collardi, who was known for his deal-making during his eight years at Julius Baer, said he was pleased the matter was now resolved.

“I accept the reprimand that has been issued,” he said in a statement. “The key is that this decision now brings this matter to a close for me.”

A spokesman for Hodler said he had taken note of the reprimand. ($1 = 0.8874 Swiss francs)

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