Ambassadors urge tougher Swiss stance against Russia

The war in Ukraine continues to leave a trail of destruction in its wake. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

The Ukrainian and United States ambassadors to Bern have called on Switzerland to redouble its efforts to enforce sanctions against Russian individuals and entities.

This content was published on April 10, 2022 - 10:30

The Swiss authorities have adopted European Union sanctions, so far seizing CHF7.5 billion ($8 billion) in assets plus several luxury propertiesExternal link.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland, Artem Rybchenko, told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper that he welcomed Swiss effortsExternal link. “But we expect more in the areas of finance, energy, banking. The problem is, we don't have much time,” he said. “The longer this war goes on, the more people are being killed.”

In particular, Rybchenko urged Switzerland to uncover assets that have been hidden behind shell companies and other constructions designed to obscure the identity of beneficiaries.

“[The Swiss authorities] must track down front companies and associated assets. It is Switzerland’s job to find them and block them.”

US ambassador Scott Miller also touched on this theme during an interviewExternal link with the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. “The difficulty now is to identify all those assets that do not bear the name of the true owners but are managed by other people or are hidden behind convoluted structures,” he said. “And that’s probably most of them.”

The US is spearheading a so-called KleptoCapture taskforce to coordinate international efforts in this area. Miller said initial talks have taken place with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco).

“We would very much welcome Switzerland joining the taskforce,” he said. “And we offer our support to Switzerland should it be needed. It is a challenge for any country to implement a sanctions package of this size and complexity. It takes time and we respect that.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Switzerland initially declined to freeze the assets of sanctioned individuals and entities, fearing this would compromise its political neutralityExternal link. But the government soon changed tack following domestic and international pressure.

Miller interprets this as “active neutrality”. “As a good neighbour you have to consider what is happening around you…and stand up for the basic values of democracy and human rights,” he said.

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