Switzerland drops Russia graft probe triggered by Magnitsky case 

The case has been linked to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail, but Swiss prosecutors said the circumstances of his death were outside its remit. Keystone / Misha Japaridze

Swiss federal prosecutors have dropped a controversial decade-long investigation into alleged Russian money-laundering in a case that has been linked to the 2009 death in jail of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  

This content was published on July 27, 2021 minutes

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said on TuesdayExternal link that “based on its extensive enquiries, the OAG can now confirm that the investigation has not revealed any evidence that would justify charges being bought against anyone in Switzerland”.  

It did, however, order the forfeiture of more than CHF4 million ($4.4 million) of the CHF18 million originally frozen, which it said could be traced to criminal activity in Russia. 

The case was opened in March 2011, based on reports filed notably by the London-based Hermitage Capital Management firm of William Browder. It covered money laundering alleged to have been committed in Switzerland between 2008 and 2010, following “a fraud committed in Russia to the prejudice of Russian tax authorities at the end of 2007, which led to undue tax refunds totalling an equivalent of $230 million being made”, explains the OAG. These funds were alleged to have been laundered first in Russia and then in several other countries, including partly in Switzerland.  

Browder has led a campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials whom he blames for the death of his lawyer Magnitsky. The lawyer was arrested in 2008 after claiming that Russian officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud. He died in jail a year later after seeking medical help and alleging mistreatment. 

The OAG said its investigations had “necessitated the disclosure of information on a large number of bank accounts in Switzerland, the filing of several requests and supplementary requests for mutual assistance abroad, i.e. in Moldova, Lithuania, Russia, Cyprus and the USA”. 

A substantial number of persons in Switzerland and abroad were interviewed. The circumstances surrounding Magnitsky’s death in Russia were not part of the proceedings as “the investigation of these matters falls outside the OAG's jurisdiction”. 

In reaching its decision to close proceedings, the OAG also re-examined Hermitage's status as a complainant. It concluded that “despite extensive enquiries, it had not been possible to demonstrate that the funds under investigation in Switzerland originated from an offence committed to Hermitage's detriment. The OAG has therefore decided to revoke Hermitage's status as a complainant”. 

The parties have the possibility to appeal within ten days. 

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