Commentary: Russian money in Switzerland reopens the debate on banking secrecy

If Switzerland joins the sanctions against the Russian oligarchs, it seems that they can still benefit from the obscurity of our system. This criticism from the United States should be taken seriously.

The tactics of the Swiss financial center are once again in the sights of the United States due to the billions invested there. Here is the Swiss National Bank.

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On Sunday evening at the RTS, Federal Chancellor Guy Parmelin, head of the economics department, spoke about Switzerland’s position regarding sanctions against Russia. According to him, Switzerland has followed “most of the EU sanctions”. If there is a new package of measures from Brussels, the Federal Council will have to “study their practical consequences” for Switzerland. It is clear that one does not feel very enthusiastic at Vodua for the idea of ​​new sanctions.

Switzerland would have been doing well had it not been for the war in Ukraine, had it not been for the consequences for its financial position and the rollercoaster of billions there. As long as there was peace, no one cared and many people took advantage of it in the course of their work completely legally. We must freeze the assets of these good Russian agents while tightening our belts. But honor is safe, and Joe Biden even cited Switzerland as an example of his loyalty to the Western camp

Kind of distrust

Whoever says sanctions mean efficiency, oversight and transparency. But little by little a kind of mistrust emerged, especially in Parliament. Some feel the penalties are exaggerated, others insufficient, that they do not affect the right people, etc. For a time, Guy Parmelin was in the sights of the Socialist Party, which he believed and his services to be lax. Last week, the Socialist Party cited the attack on some members of the Helsinki Committee, an independent body for security and cooperation in Europe, funded by the US State Department.

Switzerland in two cases?

This committee is surprised that Switzerland withheld only 7.5 billion francs of Russian money, while Swiss banks are said to hold up to 200 billion of Russian money, according to an estimate of the Swiss Banking Association, see more NGO estimates. Overview. This commission accuses Switzerland of playing on two counts by protecting the assets of the Russian president and his relatives that are deposited in Switzerland. It’s a serious accusation. The Federal Council immediately responded with force, noting that the financial sanctions already affect 1,091 people and 80 Russian companies and organizations.

no overview

How do you know what share this represents for all Russian wealth? The Federal Council does not say that, and it is likely that no one will have an overview of this money laid out in Switzerland. At the beginning of March, the Socialist Party requested the formation of a working group to investigate the inherited structures of the oligarchy and determine the true status of their wealth and heirs. Two months later, the Socialist Party regrets the “organised and persistent inaction and irresponsibility, especially within the State Secretariat for Economics (SECO) and current Federal Council member Guy Parmelin”.

Brokers subject to money laundering law

In this context, the Swiss parliament will rediscover an ancient sea serpent, going back fifteen years in the midst of a banking secrecy debate being attacked by the United States. At the time, the Obama administration was looking for money that its citizens had embezzled from the tax authorities and Switzerland had to surrender. Today, Americans keep track of Russian money and it will be much more complicated. Once again, the Swiss financial center is under pressure. National Counsel Baptiste Horney (PS/NE) believes action must be taken quickly by creating a public registry of beneficial owners of legal persons and trusts and subjecting financial intermediaries (trustees and attorneys) to money laundering law. The money approved by Parliament just rejected.

The confiscation of the oligarchy’s money?

This is also one of the points raised by the Helsinki Committee, which considers that lawyers in Switzerland play a very important role in creating credit structures to hide Russian money. In Parliament, the Socialists want to make a more radical proposal by demanding that the funds of the Russian oligarchs, who are directly involved in the war, be confiscated simply and given to Ukraine to rebuild. An idea that should make many bankers choke!

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