Switzerland strengthens process to deal with illicitly acquired assets

Bern, 25.05.2016 - At today's session, the Federal Council set 1 July 2016 as the date for the entry into force of the Foreign Illicit Assets Act and related ordinances. Switzerland has thus strengthened its legislative framework to deal comprehensively with the problem of illicitly acquired assets, including the restitution of such assets.

Approved by Parliament in December 2015, the Foreign Illicit Assets Act aims to address situations where foreign leaders have enriched themselves by misappropriating assets through corrupt or criminal means and have then transferred those assets to financial centres in other countries. This law regulates the freezing, confiscation and restitution of illicitly acquired assets in those cases which cannot be solved on the basis of the Act on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. It also provides for measures to provide legal support or second experts to assist states where the illicitly acquired assets originated in recovering them. The approach chosen by the Swiss authorities to expedite the mutual legal assistance process is to order the preventive freezing of assets. In the event that the mutual legal assistance proceedings do not succeed, this approach also allows the Federal Council to take the measures to confiscate and return the assets provided for by the Foreign Illicit Assets Act.

Three separate ordinances implement the preventive freezing of the assets of former presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, and their respective inner circles. These ordinances are based on the Foreign Illicit Assets Act rather than on the Federal Constitution as was previously the case. Thanks to these ordinances there is now greater transparency, predictability and legal certainty in efforts to tackle the problem of illicitly acquired assets.  The assets of Tunisian, Egyptian and Ukrainian origin mentioned above will be frozen until 18 January 2017, 10 February 2017 and 27 February 2017, respectively. Shortly before these deadlines the Federal Council will examine, in each case, whether or not it is appropriate to extend the period during which the assets are frozen within the limits provided for by the Foreign Illicit Assets Act.

In addition to the three ordinances relating to Tunisia, Egypt and Ukraine, the Foreign Illicit Assets Act has also required certain technical modifications to the Ordinance on the Money Laundering Reporting Office Switzerland, which will also come into effect on 1 July 2016. These modifications result from the fact that under the Foreign Illicit Assets Act, the Money Laundering Reporting Office Switzerland is a 'one-stop-shop' that is now responsible for receiving information about assets of foreign politically exposed persons when they are affected by an asset freeze ordered by the Federal Council.

Switzerland has extensive experience in asset recovery and has achieved tangible results in this area. Over the last 15 years, Switzerland has been able to return assets totalling almost CHF 1.8 billion – more than any other financial centre. Switzerland's proactive asset recovery policy has earned international recognition. The Foreign-Policy Strategy 2016-2019 mandates that Switzerland will continue its resolute action to recover the illicit assets of politically exposed persons.

Address for enquiries

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)
Directorate of International Law
Task Force Asset Recovery
Taubenstrasse 16
3003 Bern
Tel. +41 31 322 31 61


The Federal Council

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Federal Department of Justice and Police