Trading Looted Ukrainian Commodities Could Be a War Crime, Prosecutor Warns

view original post

(Bloomberg) — The commodities industry got a thinly veiled warning from Switzerland’s top prosecutor: steer clear of coal, grain or other foodstuffs reportedly pillaged from Ukraine or risk committing a war crime.

Most Read from Bloomberg

In an opinion piece for Le Temps newspaper on Wednesday, Swiss Attorney General Stefan Blaettler sketched out how economic crimes committed abroad could also be pursued by local prosecutors if linked to entities in Switzerland, a historic hub for commodity trading.

Even if international criminal law typically invokes images of genocide or other crimes against humanity, some offenses committed far from an ongoing conflict may still have a direct link to it and “this is especially the case with looting,” he wrote.

“The commercialization of looted raw materials could constitute a war crime,” Blaettler warned. “This is quite unprecedented, I agree, and to my knowledge no conviction has been pronounced in this context.”

Blaettler, a former police commissioner in the Swiss capital Bern, said the Attorney-General’s office has criminal proceedings underway in this context. He didn’t provide further details, but warned that looting of this type “may constitute a predicate offense to money laundering.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of looting grain and steel from territories it has occupied in the conflict. Turkey earlier this month begun an investigation into the origin of grain aboard a Russian ship anchored off its Black Sea port of Karasu after Ukraine said the cargo was stolen.

Read more: Turkey Probes Origin of Grain on Russian Ship

Switzerland followed the European Union in imposing increasingly stringent restrictions on some individuals and companies deemed close to the Kremlin. That has prompted some commodity traders to look for options outside the commodity hubs of Geneva and Zug.

Russia’s three largest oil producers are in the process of evaluating Dubai for trading operations, and several other firms have already relocated there, making an exodus to the Gulf emirate from Switzerland appear inevitable for some companies.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.