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Swiss prosecutor taskforce sets sights on Russian war crimes

Burned out cars next to building in Kyiv.
Switzerland will join a number of nations gathering evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Swiss federal prosecutors have formed a new unit to identify war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) says the taskforce will collect evidence from refugees arriving in Switzerland to pass on to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

United States President Joe Biden has labelled Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, while several international bodies say there is growing evidence of war crimes being carried out by Russian forces.

The OAG unit is also ready to detect and prosecute war crimes committed by Swiss citizens and to help the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs deal with sanctions violations.

The OAG said on Tuesday that it is “ready to act swiftly and efficiently whenever it is necessary”.

After initial reticence, Switzerland now follows European Union sanctions directed at Russian individuals and entities.

Improved flow of information

Attorney General Stefan Blättler will take charge of the taskforce that is made up of various department heads and specialist prosecutors.

Part of the mandate is to “ensure that the ongoing flow of information with national and international partners is strengthened”.

The OAG is yet to open any criminal investigations in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Requests for legal assistance between Switzerland and Russia have been put on ice until the justice ministry provides new guidance. Switzerland has also suspended sending requests for legal assistance to Ukraine.

Dubious record

Switzerland’s previous Attorney General, Michael Lauber, was widely criticised, along with other members of his department, for being too soft on Russia.

In 2020, the OAG controversially announced it would drop a Russian money-laundering investigation linked to the 2009 death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  

Another source of contention is that only a fraction of the frozen funds linked to the case were seized.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR