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Trading looted commodities could be war crime, says attorney general

Switzerland is a hub for trading in Russian and Ukrainian grain. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Swiss Attorney General Stefan Blättler has warned Swiss commodity trading firms dealing in grain, coal and other commodities stolen from Ukraine that they could face prosecution.

This content was published on July 14, 2022 - 10:52
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“Commercialising looted raw materials could constitute a war crime,” Stefan Blättler, who became attorney general on January 1, wrote in Le Temps newspaperExternal link on Wednesday.

While this would be unprecedented, he said that beyond war crimes committed in Ukraine, there are also certain offences committed a considerable distance from an ongoing conflict that could have a direct link with it. He wasn’t aware of any convictions so far, but he said Swiss prosecutors were already conducting criminal investigations.

Switzerland is one of the most important commodity trading centres in the world. An estimated 900 companies, including big traders like Trafigura, Glencore, Mercuria and Vitol, are based in the country. According to the Swiss Trading and Shipping Association, the industry accounts for 35,000 jobs and 4% of gross domestic product in Switzerland.

Some three-quarters of Russian crude oil and oil products are managed in Switzerland. The country also serves as a hub for Russian and Ukrainian grain and vegetable oil trading. Specialised banking services providing credit to traders along with shipping companies fill another important piece of the trading system.

The sector is known for little transparency, making it difficult to trace the flow of commodities and their origins. At the end of June, the Swiss government saidExternal link it wanted to gather more specific data on the commodity trading sector, which until now hasn’t been recorded as a separate activity.

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