Swiss court rejects request to unfreeze seized oligarch funds

Court back-and-forth: the Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne. © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Switzerland’s highest court has overturned a previous ruling which stopped legal assistance to Russia in an embezzlement case involving a prominent banking oligarch.

This content was published on February 23, 2023 minutes

Last August, the Federal Criminal Court ruled that money belonging to Promsvyazbank co-founder Dmitri Ananyev and his wife, which had been frozen due to a Russian request for legal assistance in 2020, should be released.

+ Read more: the details of the August 2022 decision

That decision was driven by the attack on Ukraine and changed situation in Moscow, judges said at the time. They also ruled that legal assistance on the case should be stopped, given that “Russia no longer offers any guarantee that it could respect its contractual obligations under international law”.

On Wednesday however, Switzerland’s highest court came out against this view, upholding an appeal launched in the meantime by the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ).

In the latest ruling, the court said that while legal assistance could be provisionally halted – due to the war and the current unclear situation – the funds should not be unblocked. This could lead to them being transferred elsewhere, making them unavailable for a possible future investigation, judges said.

While Russia has been internationally isolated from institutions like the UN Charter and the Council of Europe, it remains a party to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, they said.

Ongoing case

After Zurich investigators signalled to Russian authorities in 2019 that they were looking into a possible case of money laundering involving the Ananyev brothers – founders of the Promsvyazbank bank in the 1990s – Moscow officially submitted a request for legal assistance; since the bank had been nationalised in 2017, Russia had been investigating the brothers (and others) for suspected embezzlement of up to $1.4 billion (CHF1.38 billion).

In 2020, after the involvement of the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), a Geneva account controlled by Dmitri Ananyev and his wife was frozen, and has remained so until now, despite various appeals.

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