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Russian oligarchs’ human rights at risk if seized assets sold to rebuild Ukraine, Swiss president says

·2 min read
Ukraine has indicated it could need as much as $750 billion to rebuild the country destroyed by Russian bombs - Reuters
Ukraine has indicated it could need as much as $750 billion to rebuild the country destroyed by Russian bombs - Reuters

Oligarchs’ human rights will be breached if their capital is sold to rebuild Ukraine, the Swiss president said, as he poured cold water over Kyiv’s plan to seize $500 billion in frozen assets.

President Ignazio Cassis said moves to confiscate Russians assets would set a dangerous precedent as he closed a two-day summit of international leaders to raise money for Ukraine’s post-war recovery.

“The right of ownership, the right of property is a fundamental right, a human right,” Mr Cassis told the conference in Lugano on Tuesday.

“You have to ensure the citizens are protected against the power of the state. This is what we call liberal democracies,” he added.

The UK, EU and Canada have all outlined plans to seize the assets of Russians targeted by Western sanctions in order to provide Kyiv with a much-needed cash injection.

Ukraine has said it could need as much as $750 billion to rebuild the country destroyed by Russian bombs, including 120,000 homes, 2,000 educational facilities and 799 medical centres that have been destroyed since Russia invaded on Feb 24.

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis (right) with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss during the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano - Shutterstock
Swiss President Ignazio Cassis (right) with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss during the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano - Shutterstock

Throughout history Switzerland has remained neutral, but took the unprecedented decision to align itself with sanctions imposed by the EU on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

As the world’s largest offshore finance centre, Switzerland has maintained some of the tightest banking secrecy rules, with a reluctance to seize assets for political purposes.

Mr Cassis has sought to uphold this reputation by resisting calls from the country’s social democrats to introduce legislation allowing for the seizure of Russian assets.

In March, the Swiss Bankers Association estimated there was £129 billion to £172 billion being held in accounts for Russian citizens.

But the ramifications for seizing Russian assets would be seen as massive, according to legal experts.

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

If Bern were instead to opt to follow an international treaty on the confiscation of Russian assets, it would have to ensure the move would “not fundamentally” breach the principles of Swiss neutrality.

The Association of Swiss Private Banks said it would be “surprising if property and procedural rights were no longer respected in Switzerland”.