GENEVA — PAOLO BERNASCONI, as public prosecutor for 15 years in Ticino, a Swiss canton bordering Italy, was responsible for bringing to justice criminals involved in several international and often flamboyant crimes. They all had one thing in common: they used Swiss banks. ``I have a lot of faith in the value of uncovering things. I've always worked on what in French is called the hidden face of the moon,'' says the multilingual lawyer with a mission to make Swiss banking crime-free. ``In Switzerland, there has been a hidden area in banking, but I've seen a major change in mentality, attitude, toward secrecy. Most people are honest so they don't really know what's happening [with crime].''
Mr. Bernasconi, now a consultant to private industry and the government, has made it a point to tell them. With Rudolph Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, and Italian authorities, he unraveled the drug-related Pizza Connection four years ago. Earlier, there was the Banco Ambrosiano scandal involving $1.3 billion. And before that, some 300 Italian kidnapping cases a year, where ransom money scurried into Switzerland.
He will be best known in years to come, however, for a law on money laundering which he authored and which bears his name.
In Switzerland, bankers initially thought Bernasconi was meddling in their affairs, but as the tide of public opinion about banks began to turn against them, they saw him in another light. Today one bank director says, ``Bernasconi was well-equipped to rewrite the law and he got things moving, which we needed.''
Bernasconi now believes that the battle against crimes using the banking system can only be won through preventive action. ``We are making progress against money laundering, but I say that with the reservation that we don't know how much progress.''