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Swiss investigate alleged Russian sanctions breach by company

ZURICH/BERN (Reuters) - Switzerland's federal prosecutor has begun an investigation into an unnamed Swiss company over a possible breach of sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has taken over proceedings begun by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), it said in a statement on Tuesday.

SECO is the office responsible for policing sanctions and the OAG is called in when more serious violations are suspected.

The investigation is the first time the OAG has said publicly it is looking into the activities of companies suspected of breaching restrictions adopted by Switzerland.

"SECO has asked the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland to take over the proceedings conducted by SECO in two cases," it added.

Of these, it said it was launching proceedings in one case and had declined in the second, after the case was found to be "not of particular importance".

The OAG did not disclose details of the company involved, saying the presumption of innocence applied.

Switzerland last year came under fire for not doing enough to prevent Russians hiding money in Swiss banks, but has in recent weeks intensified its efforts to crack down on companies and individuals who are using the neutral country to circumvent sanctions imposed on Russia.

SECO, which is investigating several cases in connection with suspected sanctions violations by Swiss companies via subsidiaries abroad, said last month it had set up a specialist team to investigate and enforce sanctions.

Around 7.7 billion Swiss francs of assets had been frozen at the end of last year, a fraction of the 150 billion francs of Russian money estimated to be held in Swiss banks.

Earlier on Tuesday, SECO said that 240 potential sanctions breaches have been reported to it since the invasion, updating its latest figures.

This had led to 49 proceedings being opened, with penalties handed out in 10 cases.

(Reporting John Revill and Emma Farge; editing by Barbara Lewis)