Three days ago, the Swiss National Bank slashed its official interest rate to -0.75 percent; that move, made in faraway Europe, has enormous repercussions for Africans seeking to hide funds there. The Swiss apex bank did not make the move with African looters particularly in mind; the negative interest rate is part of their battle tool against the currency overvaluation which causes their exports to be a lot more expensive. However, with Swiss banks the favourite hub for Africa’s illegal capital flight, the new measure will hurt the stolen funds and those ferrying them.

Swiss banks receive an estimated $150 billion of funds from Africa annually, most of it illegal. But the new measures could lead to a reduction in those figures. Switzerland has in recent years repatriated billions of dollars stashed in its banks to clear up its image, among them around $700 million dollars laundered by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Now the country is trying to reduce the attractiveness of its banking services, because, ironically, the huge desire for Swiss banks is hurting the country.

Everyone loves to keep money in Switzerland—from African looters to western investors—because its assets, denominated in Swiss francs, is considered a safe haven due to the unsteadiness of the global financial markets. Thus, those who store money in Switzerland’s local currency are certain the value of their investments will not depreciate, in fact it’s guaranteed to appreciate, unlike in Nigeria, for example, where the current oil revenue crises show how vulnerable the country’s financial market is.

But Switzerland is becoming a victim of this global confidence in its financial system. The recent investors throng to the Swiss financial sector, caused in part by the Eurozone crisis, to which the country does not belong, has greatly strengthened the Swiss franc. While this would have been a good thing for the frail South African Rand or Ghana’s Cedi, it is bad news for the European heavyweight. A higher value of the Swiss franc makes the goods produced by Swiss companies more expensive to export.

First action of the Swiss National Bank (that’s like their Central Bank) was to cap the value of a franc at 1.20 per euro. Then they lowered the short-term interest rate from -0.25% to -0.75%. According to the Business Insider, “the Swiss National Bank’s move is nothing short of a revolution in the world of finance: no central bank has ever set its official interest so low. In pushing rates so far into negative territory, it is consciously destroying the value of investments in the franc in an effort to scare off ‘hot money’ that has flooded the country in search of a ‘safe haven’ from turbulent global markets.” In essence, the business new website said in a separate article, “they raised the penalty for stashing money there.”

Here are some of the stashers: as at 2011, $1.46 trillion (1.53 trillion Swiss francs) of African money was held in Swiss banks according to a Swiss National Bank (SNB) report. Seychelles ($2.39 billion), Egypt ($760 million) and South Africa ($757 million) are the top African countries whose nationals have stashed away millions of dollars in the country’s banks. However, it is important to note that countries like Seychelles are transit more or less transit networks for funds coming from other countries, like Russia and the Czech republic.

Swiss Banks

Developed countries top the overall list of those hiding in the Swiss shelter. According to the BusinessTech, “ranking countries based on the direct client exposure as well as funds held through “fiduciaries” or wealth managers with Swiss banks, the UK by far has the largest amount of money stored in the system, with total exposure equalling 276.9 billion francs (US$309.5 billion). The USA has the second largest stash, with 193 billion francs (US$216.3 billion) kept safe in Swiss banks, while the West Indies (in the UK) rank third with just over 100 billion francs (US$111.7 billion) worth exposed to the market.”

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