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Financial scandal Swiss froze millions linked to Banco Espirito Santo

Portugal bailed out debt-ridden Banco Espirito Santo, renamed Novo Banco, with €4.9 billion of taxpayer money in 2014 via the country's bank resolution fund

(Keystone)

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland froze over CHF160 million ($159 million), linked to the collapse in 2014 of Banco Espirito Santo, at the time Portugal's largest private bank. It suspects various people of money laundering.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Sunday that Swiss justice officials carried out various searches in September 2014 linked to a criminal probe into Banco Espirito Santo. The federal prosecutor’s office said this was in response to a request for legal assistance by Portugal.

It added that a joint investigation team was set up in May 2015 with the Portuguese authorities.

The confirmation follows a report on Sunday by the Le Matin Dimanche/SonntagsZeitung newspapers that Switzerland had frozen over CHF160 million ($159 million) originating from Angola, linked to the collapse in 2014 of Banco Espirito Santo. According to the papers, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland confirmed the freezing of the funds, as part of an ongoing legal procedure.

The papers said the federal prosecutor’s office is interested in the Angolan banker Alvaro Sobrinho, who oversaw the Angolan branch of Banco Espirito Santo, who is reportedly accused of money laundering. In Portugal he is also suspected of participating in fraud. The papers said the former director and his family had benefited to the tune of $500 million.

The Le Matin Dimanche/SonntagsZeitung newspapers said Sobrinho’s lawyer rejected the charges against his client.

Portugal bailed out debt-ridden Banco Espirito Santo, renamed Novo Banco, with €4.9 billion of taxpayer money in 2014 via the country's bank resolution fund, an operation that was agreed with the European Commission to ensure that state support did not infringe competition rules.

On Friday, the Portuguese government announced that it had agreed to sell a 75% stake in Novo Banco to US private equity firm Lone Star in exchange for a capital injection of €1 billion into the institution.

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