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"Fraud is still the classic white-collar crime"

Interview with Andrea Höhener

In an interview, Andrea Höhener talks about the predominant types of crimes that fall under the category of white-collar crimes, differences between the various industries as well as the police’s collaboration with companies.


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Andrea Höhener, Head of White-Collar Crime Investigations Unit of the Zurich Cantonal Police

Andrea Höhener, Head of White-Collar Crime Investigations Unit of the Zurich Cantonal Police

How common is white-collar crime in Switzerland?

We handle around 100 cases per year here in Zurich. For a while now, we’ve been seeing a trend toward internationally active criminals bringing their ill-gained assets into circulation through Switzerland’s para-banking sector. To put a damper on this phenomenon, the White-Collar Crime Investigations Unit of the Zurich Cantonal Police is working together with partner organizations both in Switzerland and abroad to target organized groups of money launderers and conduct large-scale investigations against them. Keep in mind that white-collar crime has the potential to cause extremely high losses, with figures across Switzerland ranging in the billions every year.

Do differences exist between the various industries and/or types of companies?

If you look at white-collar crime in general, in other words the broad range of different crimes that fall under this term, then no. White-collar crime can pop up anywhere. We do see trends with respect to certain phenomena, however, such as bankruptcy abuse in the restaurant and construction industries.

Which are the most common types of crimes?

Fraud is still the classic white-collar crime. We also see a large number of bankruptcy-related crimes, although this is attributable to two main factors: First is the fact that one of the Zurich government’s key areas of focus during the current legislative session is on combating bankruptcy abuse and, second, we’ve intensified our own investigatory work in this area. With respect to the types of crimes committed, including instances of fraud, there is a growing shift away from an analog modus operandi to a digital one. In response, our staff has been receiving extra training in the area of digital investigative methods and approaches for some time now.

Can you describe the profile of a typical fraudster?

There’s a very good reason why it’s called white-collar crime... We often see not just “professional fraudsters” but also people who finance their lavish lifestyles by stealing from the company. Once somebody has ventured onto this slippery slope, they’re capable of unleashing an enormous amount of criminal energy.

How does the collaboration with companies work?

The White-Collar Crime Investigations Unit of the Zurich Cantonal Police has a fundamental interest in networking with the business community. Developing a common approach is vital, which is why we’re making an effort to cultivate a regular exchange of know-how. Our staff and I regularly attend presentations and seminars held within the business community as an opportunity to further our knowledge about certain topics and also frequently serve as speakers for private-sector event organizers. Sometimes companies that have been victimized help us collect data during our investigations as well.

Which skill set do you look for in forensic investigators who focus on white-collar crime?

We have experienced police officers on staff who have a long service record and a special flair for economics and numbers. Other qualities we look for include creativity and tenacity. Our investigators attend training and further education programs at universities, both in Switzerland and abroad, to gain expertise on specialized non-police-related topics including law, business and economics. Most white-collar crime investigators also have in-depth project management expertise since investigations on large, international cases of white-collar crime are managed like projects. Additional support comes from two teams; one is a team of civilian specialists with vast real-world experience (including certified accountants, auditors and financial specialists) which is integrated into our unit and the other is a team of asset seizure specialists which also forms part of the White-Collar Crime Investigations Unit.

Where do you find your personal motivation for the work you do every day?

The knowledge that my dedicated staff and I, through our advanced, systematic methods for solving crimes, play a key role in ensuring the stability and strength of Switzerland as an economic force and a financial center.

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