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Swiss to tighten measures targeting Russia — but not yet freeze individual assets

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Swiss officials say they aim to tighten rules targeting Russia, but are still deciding on certain concrete steps and will not immediately freeze assets of wealthy oligarchs held in Swiss banks, which may allow them to move funds elsewhere.

“Today is a sad day, the likes of which we have not seen in a long time — a day like we never wanted to see again,” President Ignazio Cassis said at a press conference Thursday of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “With its military intervention, Russia has massively violated international law,” Cassis added, but also said of his country’s neutral stance: “Neutrality doesn’t mean indifference.”

Cassis said his country will extend a scheme put in place in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea: Under these measures, Switzerland imposed reporting requirements for people on the EU’s sanctions list to prevent them from using its territory to circumvent the penalties. However, that means they could — and still can — access their Swiss bank accounts and withdraw money.

Now, the 363 individuals the EU sanctioned on Wednesday will be added to that list, falling under the same reporting requirements as those sanctioned in 2014, Swiss State Secretary Erwin Bollinger said during the press conference.

Switzerland is looking into tightening these measures, which could include freezing assets of the individuals — but a decision hasn’t been made yet, according to Bollinger. Instead, Switzerland could also decide to just prevent fresh money from being paid into the accounts or impose additional reporting requirements.

The measures still have to be approved by the Swiss Federal Council, which is likely to take several days at least.

When asked about whether the government’s approach could allow Russian oligarchs to move their funds elsewhere, Bollinger said it’s normal for new measures to take time to implement.

The government also wants to sharpen certain sanctions in the financial sector more broadly, Bollinger said, but did not give details on which measures.

Government representatives also did not comment on whether they plan to back additional sanctions that EU leaders will be discussing later on Thursday, arguing that Swiss law prescribes that the country can only endorse sanctions that have formally been published.

Asked whether Switzerland is planning to take a role as a mediator in the conflict, a spokesperson declined to comment. “We can’t comment on this yet,” foreign affairs spokesperson Michael Steiner told POLITICO.

“In principle, Switzerland is always ready to offer our services — also in this case — but I cannot comment on this concrete matter,” he said.

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