The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA is currently examining the circumstances surrounding ASE Investment AG from the supervisory law perspective. FINMA has appointed an investigating agent and is clarifying the facts. It is investigating whether the company dealt in securities without holding a licence. It is also investigating whether ASE illegally accepted deposits from the public. Based on the findings at this stage of the investigations, the financial impact is high.
ASE Investment AG has been operating for some time as an independent asset manager focusing on the forex business. For this activity, it requires a licence under the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), but not under any of the other financial market laws. It is estimated that more than 500 investors, to whom ASE had promised very high returns, were victims of business practices that are the subject of the ongoing investigations: FINMA is investigating unauthorised securities dealing and prohibited acceptance of deposits from the public. It is also analysing the conduct of banks with which ASE had placed deposits. It is coordinating its investigations with the ongoing investigations of the Public Prosecutor's Office of Canton Aargau.
In 2006, ASE Investment AG came to the attention of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission (SFBC), one of FINMA's predecessor organisations. At that time, the SFBC looked into indications that forex investments offered by ASE were funds requiring authorisation. FINMA instigates dozens of investigations every year, for example where it suspects that public deposits have been accepted without authorisation or if the requirement to obtain authorisation for a fund is violated. If it determines a corresponding infringement of the law, FINMA decides whether to liquidate the offending company, and in the case of over-indebtedness whether to open bankruptcy proceedings. If there are reasonable prospects for compliance with the law being restored and if the persons responsible are willing to cooperate, an unlicensed company can be set a deadline for meeting the licensing requirements. ASE cooperated in the SFBC's investigations, and restored compliance with the law within the set deadline.
After ASE Investment AG had met the legal requirements, in 2007 it was granted a licence as a distributor of collective investment schemes. There were no indications of fraudulent activities by ASE. The licence as a distributor of collective investment schemes is – as desired by the legislators – no more than a registration, given that licensed fund distributors are not subject to any ongoing state supervision.
Since 2002, ASE Investment AG has also held a licence from another of FINMA's predecessor organisations, the Anti-Money Laundering Control Authority. At that time, ASE decided not to join a self-regulatory organisation, and opted instead to be directly subordinated to the supervisory authority to have its compliance with the anti-money laundering provisions checked. FINMA must admit as a directly subordinated financial intermediary (DSFI) any applicant that meets the legal requirements. It supervises DSFIs solely in respect of their compliance with the due diligence requirements set down in the AMLA: specifically, it has to check whether the DSFI has taken the necessary measures to prevent money laundering. ASE had met the requirements in this regard.
Until three weeks ago, there were no signs of unlawful conduct by ASE Investment AG. Individual indications of possible irregularities in 2009 did not provide any specific leads or evidence of misconduct, compliance problems or fraud that would have required and justified intervention by FINMA. Until April 2012, FINMA had also received no complaints from clients. Immediately after Basler Kantonalbank noticed irregularities in the ASE accounts and reported an offence, FINMA initiated the necessary steps.
Tobias Lux, Media Spokesperson, phone +41 (0)31 327 91 71, email@example.com