Putin’s Oil Ally Takes Fight for Frozen Funds to Top Swiss Court

This content was published on October 6, 2020 - 08:29

(Bloomberg) -- Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire ally of Vladimir Putin, asked Switzerland’s top court to overturn a U.S. Treasury Department freeze on a pair of his bank accounts in the Alpine nation.

A Geneva court on Sept. 1 rejected his appeal of a decision by local prosecutors to refuse to examine whether the freeze on the accounts was illegal. With no other recourse, Timchenko’s lawyer has taken the case to the Swiss Federal Court.

Timchenko was among a clutch of Russian oligarchs whose assets were frozen by the U.S. Treasury because he was deemed a close associate of Putin’s as part of sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine in 2014.

Timchenko, who made some of his fortune with Geneva-headquartered Gunvor Group, one of the world’s biggest independent oil traders, is worth about $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Alain Bionda, his lawyer, declined to give the amounts in the frozen accounts.

A spokesman for the Swiss Federal Court confirmed the appeal, but said the documents in the case are private. A spokesman for Timchenko declined to comment.

Timchenko in February demanded that one of the banks hand over their records on him and confirm whether they’d shared it with the U.S. authorities, according to the Sept. 1 decision. When the bank refused, he filed a criminal complaint with Swiss prosecutors, accusing the unidentified bank of criminal mismanagement for continuing to deduct fees on the account even though he couldn’t access it.

The bank is BNP Paribas SA, according to Swiss legal blog Gotham City, which reported news of the court decision earlier. BNP declined to comment, as did the federal prosecutor’s office.

Timchenko argued that the U.S. sanctions were political and that that their implementation in Switzerland damaged the country’s neutrality and could create a dangerous global precedent, according to the decision.

“This case is indeed of great importance for the sovereignty of Switzerland,” Bionda said in an email.

Timchenko agreed to sell his entire stake in Gunvor to company co-founder Torbjorn Tornqvist a day before the U.S. sanctioned Timchenko in March, 2014 due to his close ties to Putin.

“Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin,” the U.S. Treasury Department said at the time. Gunvor was not sanctioned and has long said Putin had no ownership, influence over, or link to the energy trading firm.

A U.S. Treasury spokesman declined to comment on Timchenko’s legal bid, referring back to the 2014 statement announcing the sanctions.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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