BERN, SWITZERLAND – A Spanish judge investigating a corruption case involving the king of Spain’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, 10 April ordered the freezing of Swiss bank accounts used for “opaque payments”. The case, which has gripped Spain for weeks, flared up again with the announcement. But a spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Justice Office, which handles foreign requests to block accounts, told GenevaLunch 12 April that the office “has no knowledge of a request for judicial assistance in this case”.
A foreigner’s bank account in Switzerland cannot be blocked except by order of the Swiss government after it receives a request from foreign government authorities or in some cases, such as the fall of dictators, the Federal Council will act on its own.
Urdangarín, a former Olympic handball player married to the king’s daughter, Cristina, has been accused of siphoning euros 5.8 million of public funds intended for the Noos Institute, a Spanish non-profit foundation, which he headed between 2004 and 2006. The institute sponsored sports and tourism congresses with the regional financial backing of Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
Swiss accounts resurface during testimony
The Duke of Palma, as he is also known, was jeered at as he entered court in February, the Guardian reported at the time. The lengthy interrogation that followed turned up an Irish fiduciary, Alternative General Services Ltd, that was allegedly involved in transferring payments.
Earlier, in March, El Pais reported that “The witness also denied allegations that he held accounts in Switzerland or any other offshore tax jurisdictions after the prosecutor show him a document concerning one Swiss account”, but Swiss accounts are surfacing again this week in Spanish media reports.
Six other witnesses in the case known as Palma Arena were interrogated before Judge José Castro and Prosecutor Pedro Herrach reportedly ordered the freezing of the accounts.
Swiss anti-corruption programme to freeze funds requires a request
Switzerland, in the case of high-profile individuals, handles requests under the “Illicit assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs)” programme. The programme is designed for swift action once a request is made; Switzerland was among the first to block assets in 2011, for example, of deposed Tunisian and Egyptian dictators. “The relevant judicial authorities of the country in question are responsible for conducting the procedures necessary to demonstrate the illicit origin of the frozen assets,” the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs notes on its web pages.
But first the officials must request mutual legal assistance from the Swiss Justice Office.