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Switzerland freezing $1bn in assets of former Ukrainian and Egyptian presidents

Published time: June 05, 2014 12:42
Edited time: June 05, 2014 16:31
AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini

AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini

Swiss authorities have frozen the assets of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and intend to block those of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as part of an ongoing effort to clean the country's coffers of corrupt money.

Government officials have secured $187 million in assets belonging to Ukraine's ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich and his inner circle, following suspicions of money laundering.

The authorities are closely working on recovering around $782 million belonging by Mubarak and his entourage, says Reuters.

"There are preventive measures; every 'politically-exposed person' goes through an extremely deep examination. In Switzerland, a bank's board member must give the green light to open an account and it is reviewed every year," as Reuters quotes Valentina Zellweger, head of the foreign ministry's international law department.

"We don't act only when they lose power. There is a whole legal arsenal to avoid that money comes to the Swiss financial centre," he added.

In terms of Ukraine, the Swiss Attorney General's office has opened seven criminal investigations and blocked $112 million, AFP says. The sum is in addition to $75 million frozen on government orders, Zellweger explained.

However he considers the sum as "rather modest" according to the ex-leader’s thefts valued in billions. More than $3 billion were looted during Yanukovich’s regime according to Ukraine General Prosecutor Oleh Makhnitskyi at April’s international conference on recovering the country's lost assets.

Chronically unstable Ukraine may see a way out in restitution, considers Zellweger.

On February 26 Bern decided to block Yanukovich's assets together with Austria and Liechtenstein, and two days later the move became public.

Switzerland has more than quarter-century of experience in collecting information for prosecution and for returning money to the people it was stolen from.

"There is an arsenal to minimise the risk of money derived from corruption. I think that the system works pretty well. We take care of cases that fall between the cracks," said Zellweger.

It took 17 years before Switzerland managed to give back 684 million Swiss francs appropriated by Ferdinand Marcos, the former Philippines president.

Since 2003 Switzerland has returned 1.8 billion Swiss francs embezzled by such persons as Marcos, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Vladimir Montesinos of Peru, Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti and others.

The country’s asset recovery effort is more than a quarter of the total world restitution of $4-5 billion.