Written by Swiss anti-corruption watchdog Mark Pieth, Gold Laundering – the dirty secrets of the gold trade and how to clean up shines a light on the key players in the gold industry, the different risks associated with large-scale versus artisanal mining, and the shortcomings of various international regulations and certification schemes.
How did we get here? In a discussion with swissinfo.ch, Pieth explained the history of how Switzerland came to be at the heart of a highly profitable but opaque trade. These are some of the key historical moments in the Swiss gold story, according to him.
World War II – Swiss neutrality and Nazi gold
Pieth says that Switzerland benefited from its neutrality during World War II by purchasing vast amounts of gold from Allied and Axis powers. It exchanged the precious metal for Swiss francs, the only free convertible currency at the time outside the American dollar.
This trade benefitted Germany in particular, effectively turning Switzerland into an enabler of the German war effort. The Swiss acquired 79% of all German gold delivered to foreign countries, with 90% of that ending up in the Swiss National Bank and the remainder in commercial banks.
It is believed that Swiss banks bought CHF1.7 billion ($1.7 billion) worth of Nazi gold, including gold that Germany plundered from the reserves of conquered countries, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. Some of this gold was confiscated from private persons or removed from victims of concentration camps.