Russian gold is in Switzerland again, for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine. In May, three tons of gold from Russia were imported into the Alpine country, which has many refineries, to melt ingots, the American financial news agency Bloomberg revealed on Tuesday (June 21st).
These three tons of gold, worth 194 million Swiss francs (191 million euros), arrived in Switzerland from the United Kingdom but their “indication of origin mentions Russia”, indicates this Friday June 24 in a press release the Federal Office of Customs and Border Security (OFDF). “The OFDF examines the imports concerned with regard to the sanctions in force”, specify the customs, insisting however on the fact that “for legal reasons, no information on the importers of gold can be provided”. The mystery thus remains for the moment whole as for the name of the importer.
Swiss customs are examining recent imports of Russian gold into Switzerland in light of the economic sanctions directed against Moscow since the start of its war against Ukraine, they announced on Friday. The export of gold to Russia is prohibited by the sanctions regime in place. But the import of gold from Russia to Switzerland is on the other hand “not prohibited by the ordinance establishing measures related to the situation in Ukraine”, explain the customs in the press release. Since March 7, 2022, ingots produced by Russian refineries can no longer be traded in Switzerland. “However, ingots produced by Russian refineries before March 7 can in principle continue to be produced,” they add.
The gold market constitutes a strong commercial link between Switzerland and Russia, underlines the German-speaking weekly WOZ, which writes, as spotted by the Swiss media 20 Minutes, that “over the past two years, gold has accounted for more than 80% of all imported Russian goods”. Furthermore, Swiss gold refineries represent between 65 to 70% of the annual production of gold refineries worldwide.
Thursday, June 23, the Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders of Precious Metals (ASFCMP) said it had been in contact with its members and assured “that none of them is at the origin of these imports”. This federation, which brings together the 14 main Swiss companies specializing in the processing and trading of precious metals, has however called on its members to be vigilant, recommending that they act “with the greatest precaution” and to abstain “in the event of doubt”. “Dodgy gold has no place in Switzerland,” she said in a statement. Its 14 members alone represent 90% of the gold melted in Switzerland.
As the Swiss media Le Matin points out, in this country, the major refineries are all under the authority of the London Bullion Market Association, an association which has prohibited the purchase of Russian gold since the start of the war. Four of them together process two-thirds of the world’s gold: the MKS refinery, based in Geneva, Metalor Technologies, which is based in Neuchâtel, Argor-Heraeus, based in Mendrisio and Valcambi, which is based in Balerna.
According to Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), the gold arriving in Switzerland was already more than 99.5% refined. It is therefore possible that it comes directly from the coffers of the Russian Central Bank, which is therefore under the sanctions adopted by the EU and Switzerland. “There is a risk that this gold will participate directly or indirectly in financing the war in Ukraine”, warns in La Matinale de RTS Marc Ummel, responsible for raw materials at Swissaid, an NGO which has been leading for years research on the gold market in Switzerland. He adds: “If it is the Central Bank, there is a clear violation of the sanctions.”
According to this specialist, the gold could also be used by an oligarch for money laundering. “We ask that light be shed on this case,” he says. The State Secretariat for the Economy (SECO), that is to say the competence center of the Swiss Confederation for all questions of economic policy, has not, however, opened an investigation for lack of clues. . A mistake, according to Marc Ummel: “When a smelter or a refinery does not respect the recommendations of the federal administration, there are enough clues to investigate.”
His colleague Thäis In der Smitten, media manager at Swissaid, points to the role of the United Arab Emirates. His NGO had already sounded the alarm in mid-May, announcing that a significant increase in gold imports from the United Arab Emirates had been noted. This state is “known to be a hub for dirty gold or gold whose origin is problematic”, she told RTS. “It is known that on other occasions, Venezuela and Libya have also used Dubai to transit gold in order to circumvent sanctions. This leads us to the conclusion that Russia is using the same mechanism,” he said. she. She continues: “Experts agree that China, India and the United Arab Emirates are very likely destinations for gold exports from Russia due to the sanctions currently in place.”
In March 2022, 36 tonnes of gold arrived in Switzerland from the United Arab Emirates, the highest monthly quantity recorded for six years and three times more than the previous two months. More than 20 tonnes followed last April.