According to SRF and Die Wochenzeitung, a joint investigation by Rundschau and WOZ has shown that Swiss gold refineries have processed large quantities of Russian-origin gold from London in recent years.
110 tonnes of gold worth over six billion Swiss francs have passed through Swiss refineries since 2021 (plants where gold is refined).
Switzerland received gold of Russian origin via London
From the start of Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine in February 2022, it was 75 tonnes. This data is confirmed by official figures from the Federal Office for Customs Administration and Border Security (BAZG).
The figures show a sharp increase in the import of gold from Russian sources into Switzerland. Before Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, Switzerland imported, on average, only about 20 tonnes of gold of Russian origin annually. To compare, in the first five months of this year alone, 38 tonnes of gold of Russian origin now entered Switzerland from London.
From Moscow to the UK to Switzerland
The trail of Russia’s gold leads to the UK. Until 2018, Russia exported very little gold there. Then the quantities of gold exploded in 2019: from 2019 until the outbreak of war, Russia sold over 700 tonnes of gold to London – with a value of over 34 billion Swiss francs. The data from the British Foreign Trade Office confirmed this.
Swiss precious metals expert Bernhard Schnellmann explains the increase as follows: “The Russian central bank stopped buying gold in mid-2019 and then later cancelled VAT on gold.” Thus, he says, gold exports increased massively.
“Gold export as preparation for war”
Former criminal law professor and gold trade expert Mark Pieth has a different explanation. He sees a direct connection to the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “I assume that these sales were about preparing for war.”
For Pieth, the suspicion is thus on the table that Russia could have filled the war chest with massive gold exports. In addition to the income from gas and oil sales, Russian gold could also have helped Putin’s regime to finance its war of aggression against Ukraine.
The fact that this gold was presumably processed in Switzerland is problematic, according to Pieth. Indeed, the Russian regime is not currently earning money from the transactions. “If Swiss refineries now import this gold and remelt it, this is legally unproblematic but ethically very questionable,” says Pieth.
Swiss aid commodities expert Marc Ummel also emphasises this. With the remelting, “ethically questionable Russian gold” becomes gold with a Swiss seal of quality. “You lose the traceability of the gold, which is very problematic,” says Ummel.
Swiss refineries reject criticism
Gold refiners in Switzerland see no connection between the processing of Russian-origin gold and Russia’s war activities. Christoph Wild, president of the Swiss Association of Precious Metals Manufacturers and Traders, says when asked: “This gold is not sanctioned and has nothing to do with ethical or not ethical. It was produced before the war started.”
As long as it can be proven that the gold was exported from Russia to Great Britain before the start of Russia’s all-out war, which means before the sanctions were introduced, he does not see any ethical problems with the processing of this gold.
Customs administration: “It’s all legal.”
In Switzerland, there is a ban on “buying, importing, or transporting” gold from Russia. The Federal Council adopted the restriction in August 2022.
Regarding the gold of Russian origin imported into Switzerland in recent years, the customs administration says: “Everything is legal.” The imports had been checked.
Although the gold originally came from Russia, it had already been exported to the UK before the war began in February 2022. It, therefore, did not come directly from Russia and did not serve to finance the war directly.
Swiss parliament blocked re-export of Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine
The National Council, the lower house of the Swiss parliament, has voted against an amendment allowing the re-export of Swiss-made weaponry to third countries, such as Ukraine, the news agency Swissinfo reported on June 2.
Following Switzerland’s historical neutrality policy, the country’s law does not currently allow the delivery of Swiss weapons to combat zones, even when supplied by an intermediary nation. At the same time, Ukraine needs Western weapons to defend the country from Russian invasion.
However, imports from an aggressive nation waging war against its neighbour can help it finance the war, and the law does not forbid it.