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Urs Schwarzenbach Swiss billionaire given heavy fine for illegal art imports

Urs Schwarzenbach outside Bülach district court in November 2017

Urs Schwarzenbach outside Bülach district court in November 2017


A Swiss court has fined billionaire financier Urs Schwarzenbach CHF4 million ($4 million) for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland. 

Schwarzenbach, an art collector and owner of the five-star Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich, was found guilty by the Bülach district court in Zurich on Monday. He rejects the charges and plans to appeal. 

The Swiss customs authorities had accused Schwarzenbach of either failing to declare the imported art works or of underestimating their value in tax declarations. This allowed him to avoid paying duties worth CHF10 million, the authorities claimed. 

Schwarzenbach rejected the charges, stating that the art works had always been kept at Zurich Airport in a location which did not require any customs declarations. 

The billionaire denies owning some 10,000 works of art valued at several hundred million Swiss francs. 

‘Saving time’ 

The Swiss customs authorities’ interest in Schwarzenbach dates to 2012, when it opened an investigation suspecting him of importing artwork illegally. 

He was caught at Zurich Airport with a painting worth CHF300,000 and an antique elephant-shaped object worth CHF11,300, which he failed to declare correctly to customs. Schwarzenbach argued that he was simply trying to save time. 

The probe concluded in October 2016 that he had effectively dodged duties worth CHF10 million, which he was ordered to repay, along with a CHF4 million fine. Schwarzenbach denied any intentional wrongdoing and contested the penalty, which led to the Bülach court case and Monday’s decision. 

In 2017, the Swiss finance magazine Bilanz estimated Schwarzenbach’s fortune at CHF1.25 billion.


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