The Switzerland Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on Tuesday dropped a decade-old money laundering investigation exposed by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian jail in 2009.
The investigation was opened in March 2011 against unknown individuals on suspicion of money laundering committed in Switzerland between 2008 and 2010 and was based on a complaint filed by UK-based Hermitage Capital Management alleging criminal activity.
The money laundering activity apparently related to a tax fraud committed in Russia at the end of 2007 involving USD $230 million. These funds were alleged to have been laundered first in Russia, then several other countries, and finally in Switzerland leading the OAG to order the seizure of assets totaling approximately CHF 18 million.
According to the OAG, the investigation compelled the disclosure of information on a large number of Swiss bank accounts, request of assistance from authorities in other countries such as Moldova, Lithuania, Russia, Cyprus and the US, and the interview of a substantial number of persons in and out of Switzerland.
Clarifying that the circumstances surrounding the death of Magnitsky, including the “Magnistky lists,” are beyond the scope of the OAG’s jurisdiction, the OAG concluded:
In money laundering cases, a link between the sums suspected of being laundered in Switzerland and a predicate offense, a felony, generally committed abroad, must be established with a sufficient degree of certainty…the investigation has not revealed any evidence that would justify charges being bought against anyone in Switzerland; the decision has therefore been taken to close the proceedings in accordance with Article 319 paragraph 1 letter a of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrimPC). Nevertheless, in view of the fact that a link has been established between some of the assets under seizure in Switzerland and the predicate offense committed in Russia, the OAG has ordered the forfeiture of assets and recognized a compensatory claim in favor of the Confederation. The total sum involved is equivalent to more than CHF 4 million.
Additionally, the OAG revoked Hermitage’s status as a complainant in the case stating that “despite extensive enquiries, it had not been possible to demonstrate that the funds under investigation in Switzerland originated from an offence committed to Hermitage’s detriment.”
Bill Browder, Magnistky’s former employer, and other commentators have condemned the Swiss authorities’ decision to drop the case, stating that “The decision to end the probe without any charges being brought was a ‘stain on Switzerland.'” Magnitsky was allegedly tortured and mistreated in a Russian jail after Russian officials accused him of colluding with Browder to defraud Russia. He died in 2009.
The OAG’s decision comes in the wake of bribery and political interference at the highest levels of the OAG that ultimately led to the resignation of Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber. Lauber was facing impeachment by Swiss parliamentarians. His successor has yet to be appointed.
Hermitage and any other parties involved have 10 days to file an appeal against the order dropping the charges.