Switzerland resists Ukrainian plan to seize frozen Russian assets | Ukraine

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Ukrainian plans to seize up to $500bn (£418bn) in frozen Russian assets to fund the country’s recovery have come up against strong resistance from Switzerland, host of a two-day international conference on the recovery in Ukraine.

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis pushed back against the plan, saying protecting property rights was fundamental in a liberal democracy. He pointed out at a closing press conference the serious qualms of some leaders that the proposals to confiscate Russian assets would set a dangerous precedent and required specific legal justification.

“The right to property, the right to property is a fundamental right, a human right,” he said in Lugano, adding that such rights could be violated, as they have been during the pandemic. , but only as long as there was a legal basis. .

He added: “You have to make sure that citizens are protected against the power of the state. This is what we call liberal democracies.

Switzerland is one of many countries with strict bank secrecy laws that are not keen on seizing private assets for political purposes.

The idea won the approval in principle of British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Cassis said it was legitimate to freeze assets to clarify their ownership and whether there was a causal link with the war or with a crime that had been committed, but the principle of proportionality under international law should also to be taken into account.

“We have to pay the utmost attention to the fundamental right of individuals, because now we can make a decision, which is perfect for the situation in Ukraine, but we create the possibility of making the same decision in many other possibilities and give you much more power to the states, away from the citizen,” he said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Smihal admitted that this was only the beginning of a discussion, but he refused to go back on an idea he had repeatedly touted during the conference. “We propose to find a formula to create national and international legislation on the possibility of confiscation of frozen assets in the event of an unprovoked attack, which will be rules,” he said.

“We, as a country, which suffers this unprovoked aggression, will speak very loudly about this possibility because we understand that an aggressor who kills our people, destroys our infrastructure, our schools, our hospitals should pay for it.”

He claimed that $300 billion to $500 billion in Russian assets had been frozen around the world.

In Switzerland, Cassis stalled the issue in parliament and came under pressure from social democrats to introduce laws allowing asset confiscation.

In April, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) announced that it had frozen 9.7 billion Swiss francs (£8.4 billion) of Russian assets, but since then some of this money has been released. A controversial issue is the extent to which family members of a sanctioned oligarch can retain property in Switzerland.

In March, the industry body representing Swiss banks, the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), published a study estimating that there were between 150 and 200 billion Swiss francs held in the accounts of Russian citizens. At the end of last year, total cash held on behalf of customers by Swiss banks amounted to 7.879 billion francs, more than half of which came from wealth abroad, according to the ASB.

Individual property rights are enshrined in Article 26 of the Swiss Constitution, and “any limitation of fundamental rights must be justified by the public interest”.

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