Swiss say they’ve frozen $8 billion in Russian assets since Ukraine invasion

15 properties also seized; Switzerland abandoned customary neutrality to join EU in sanctioning Moscow

The Switzerland national flag waves in the wind on Lake Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
Illustrative: The Switzerland national flag waves in the wind on Lake Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

GENEVA, Switzerland — Switzerland said Thursday that it has to date frozen a total of 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($7.9 billion) in Russian assets, in connection with the sanctions imposed over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The amount, which has been fluctuating for months, is nearly one billion francs more than the figure provided by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in July.

Switzerland, a favored destination for wealthy Russians and their assets, has also seen 15 Russian properties seized, it said.

Those are assets owned or controlled directly by people, companies and organizations subject to sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.

Erwin Bollinger, in charge of bilateral economic relations at SECO, stressed to reporters that the amount frozen at any given time does not necessarily “reflect the efficacy of the sanctions.”

That is because Swiss authorities seeking to implement the string of sanctions on Russia sometimes freeze assets as a precautionary measure, which may be released again once clarifications have been completed.

Traditionally neutral Switzerland decided four days after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 to align itself with the neighboring European Union’s sanctions against Moscow, obliging banks to pass on information on clients or firms targeted.

As with their EU counterparts, Swiss banks are banned from accepting deposits from Russian nationals or people or entities based in Russia of more than 100,000 francs, and have been ordered to declare all existing deposits over that amount.

The secretariat said that 123 people or entities in Switzerland reported 7,548 “business relationships” with a total value of 46.1 billion francs. A further 294 “business relationships” with Russia’s close ally Belarus were worth 400 million francs.

People who are citizens of Switzerland or a country in the European Economic Area, or who hold a temporary or permanent residence permit from one of those countries, are exempt both from the ban on new deposits and the reporting requirement. Deposits under 100,000 francs also don’t have to be reported.

The secretariat stressed that “the level of reported deposits … can therefore not be equated with the total amount of funds of Russian origin held in Switzerland.”

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