WHAT IS THE MELTING POINT OF SWISS CHEESE — SERGEI PUGACHEV’S BANKERS TESTIFY IN SECRET TRIAL

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Two Swiss bankers charged with money-laundering crimes in aid of the fugitive Russian banker Sergei Pugachev went before the Swiss federal criminal court last week. The trial was brief;  no reporters were present; and the lawyers are trying to keep the bankers’ names secret. They refuse to say if the verdict has already been agreed with the court.

The two accused are Guillaume Lejoindre, a former chief executive and board director of Société Générale’s (SocGen) private bank in Geneva, and Mario Kleinfercher, the bank’s chief compliance officer.  Lejoindre left SocGen in 2016, and is currently listed with the Family Office Network Service (FONS), a private client advisory company  Kleinfercher was a compliance officer at the Swiss branch of  Deutsche Bank between 1997 and 2002; he was then head of compliance at HSBC until 2010, when he took the same title at SocGen. He left SocGen in 2016 at the same time as Lejoindre. Curently, Kleinfercher is head of group compliance at the Union Bancaire Privée (UBP); he is registered at the bank’s office in Crans-Montana.

Left: Guillaume Lejoindre in a 2009 photograph published by Reuters. Referring to increased regulation of client secrecy, Guillaume said: “Switzerland has resisted maybe better than some other markets." Right: Mario Kleinfercher.  

The case against Pugachev for diversion of at least $1 billion in funds from state loans to his Russian bank has been investigated and adjudicated in a lengthy process at the High Court in London. The archive of High Court cases between 2014 and 2017 can be followed here. For Justice Vivien Rose’s analysis of Pugachev’s financial record and her judgement against him for lying and dishonesty,  read the court record of February 8, 2016; Rose has dismissed Pugaechev’s political motivation argument as self-serving and false.  For more details on Swiss press coverage of the Pugachev money-laundering investigation at SocGen, read this.

Pugachev has been defended and promoted by the Financial Times newspaper in London, and by Catherine Belton, a reporter currently employed by Reuters. She is now facing trial in the London High Court for fabricating from Pugachev and other sources lies about Roman Abramovich’s links to President Vladimir Putin’s administration.  The trial charges against Belton can be read here.

Reuters knew the details of the Lejoindre-Kleinfercher prosecution, and the day of their trial in Bellinzone. The news agency sent no reporter to the court.

In a Swiss publication of  March 31,  it was reported that the dossier of the Swiss government investigation of Pugachev’s transactions with SocGen had been disclosed to the press; it runs for  250 pages. Gotham City also reported that the Federal Department of Finance (DFF) had convicted the two bankers in an administrative proceeding in August 2020. Lejoindre was reportedly fined 30,000 Swiss francs ($32,610); Kleinfercher, 60,000 francs ($65,220). They then appealed and requested the court trial; this took place on April 8.

A veteran Swiss banker comments that it is surprising that the two men, whose names he did not recognise as prominent in Geneva banking, would run the risk of a court conviction by appealing against relatively small fines in what would have remained a confidential process, had they paid up.

Court records show that the two men were charged with failing to report suspicious transactions to the Swiss government’s regulator and of negligence.  The offences took place, according to the indictment, between January 2011 and October 2013. The transcript of the trial is not public. In the case hearing notice Lejoindre and Kleinfercher are referred to as A and B.  The court file for the case is headed SK.2020.39.  

Lejoindre was represented in court by Geneva lawyer Olivier Brunisholz, who is also associated  with the FONS company. Brunisholz was asked for his client’s response to the charges, whether he had pleaded guilty, and whether the verdict had been decided in advance. He did not reply.

Left: Olivier Brunisholz at his Geneva law office. Right: Daniel Tunik at his Geneva firm.

Kleinfercher was represented by Daniel Tunik. Earlier this month Tunik told the Swiss press   the charges against Pugachev had been “politically motivated”. According to Kleinfercher, since he had believed Pugachev on this point, he had no obligation to report to the authorities any suspicion of the criminal origin of Pugachev’s money. Tunik was also quoted as claiming the money-laundering standards of the Swiss regulators have changed since the 2011-2013 period in the charge sheet. He criticised the Swiss Federal Department of Finances (DFF) for retrospective application.

Tunik was asked to clarify the secrecy of the trial and to say if the outcome is already known. He refused to answer. The published court record does not refer to a decision in the case.

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