Russian Sanctions Put Switzerland in a Tough Spot Between Regulators and Oligarchs

  • Richard Marley
  • June 06, 2022
  • 2 minutes read
  • 626

Switzerland’s luxury sector is in a tough spot after Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian assets in foreign countries following the invasion of Ukraine.

“You just can’t reach them by phone these days,” an investigator working on international asset recovery told SWI about Swiss financial advisers working with targeted Russian clients. “They are working round the clock”.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Switzerland has aligned itself with European economic measures, including the freezing of assets owned by the Russian state and oligarchs who had benefitted from links with President Vladimir Putin. 

It has also taken measures to prohibit financial transactions in businesses linked to the vital Russian energy sector and commodity trading with Russia.

Swiss investigators seeking assets liable to be frozen certainly have their work cut out for them. 

As multiple media investigations into offshore wealth have demonstrated over the years, wealthy individuals, not just Russian oligarchs, have long employed complex legal structures to transfer assets in companies whose ownership has often been referred to as Russian stacking dolls: one legal entity is owned by another and so forth.

“Reports on the assets of sanctioned persons are constantly coming in at SECO,” Florian Maienfisch, a spokesperson from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which runs the government’s oligarch taskforce. 

“Since this process is still in full swing, reports that have already been received only represent an incomplete, changing intermediate status.”

The office explained that in addition to banks, local and cantonal authorities as well as insurance companies, individuals, civic society groups or anyone who may suspect ownership of properties and assets by sanctioned persons in Switzerland may alert the task force of such links. 

Lawyers working in other capacities than to defend a client in court – including as a fiduciary – are “obligated” to report any sanctionable assets.

Suggested read: Swiss Court Seeks $45m Compensation in Credit Suisse Money Laundering Case