Switzerland has launched a investigation into alleged money laundering by corrupt Russian tax officials.
The spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to the Swiss News Agency on Monday that an investigation against persons unknown had been started at the behest of a British legal firm acting for the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund.
The complaint was originally lodged with the Swiss Money Laundering Reporting Office (Mros), which passed it on to the Prosecutor’s Office, she said. She would give no further details as the case was on-going.
William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, told the AFP news agency that Switzerland had frozen the accounts of the husband of one of the tax officials suspected of involvement in the alleged scam.
Hermitage, which has represented the interests of shareholders groups in large partly state owned Russian companies including Sberbank and Gazprom, is at the heart of a complex case involving accusations and counter-accusations of corruption and tax fraud.
It claims to be the victim of fraud perpetrated by Russian police and tax officials, who have allegedly falsified documents obtained from the fund to claim back tax payments of 5.4 billion roubles (more than SFr 160 million).
A Russian lawyer for Hermitage, Sergey Magnitsky, who had revealed the fraud, was arrested in Moscow in 2008 on charges of tax evasion himself. He died in mysterious circumstances in pre-trial detention.
Other associates of Hermitage have reportedly been beaten up and robbed, and documents and computers have been confiscated from its offices in Moscow, and those of its law firm.
swissinfo.ch and agencies