Switzerland welcomes Russian oligarchs

How Swiss bank clients with Russian passports kept their ruble accounts.
Origin source
Some banks in Switzerland are still ready to accept ruble transfers from clients, despite the tightening of conditions for banking services for Russians in this country, Forbes found out. We can also talk about transfers of $10 million or more, which are subject to special prior approval.

Last year, Swiss banks, including the largest UBS and Credit Suisse, tightened their work with clients with Russian passports: they faced the threat of having their accounts blocked if, for example, they pay taxes in Russia or have a business in Russia. The reason is tightening control over the implementation of sanctions. This year, banks began to close accounts for people with dual citizenship if one of their passports is Russian.

However, clients of Swiss banks from among the 10 largest still manage not only to maintain accounts, but also to transfer rubles to them. Four Forbes interlocutors spoke about this - an employee of a family office in Moscow, whose client carried out such operations, an investment consultant, managing partner of the Swiss law firm LEOLEX Roman Kudinov and the head of the Swiss capital management company Main Partner AG Alena Sakharova.

How it works?

An employee of a family office in Moscow said that in the case of one of the banks, it is possible to transfer rubles if we are talking about an amount of $10 million or more. These transfers, according to him, are subject to special prior approval. You need to call the client manager, he coordinates the transfer within the bank with compliance specialists (responsible for ensuring that the bank’s activities comply with all the requirements of supervisory authorities and legislation). According to Forbes' interlocutor, after a ruble transfer to the bank, the money is exchanged for foreign currency at the exchange rate, and the bank takes a commission - usually about 0.2-0.4% of the transaction amount. In addition, the client is obliged to place the transferred money in the same bank. Each transaction is “looked at individually” and there are cases of refusals, for example, if the source of funds is transactions with state-owned companies or the state, adds an employee of the family office.

The conversion rate for the transferred rubles was the exchange rate, and the bank’s commission was 0.5% of the transaction, an investment consultant who requested anonymity told Forbes. “Such deals are available to existing clients for whom compliance specialists have not had any questions,” he added.

Head of Main Partner AG Alena Sakharova said that clients coordinate the operation of transferring rubles to a Swiss bank account with Main Partner specialists, and they, in turn, with compliance specialists at the bank. According to her, approval takes from one to five days, depending on the amount - the larger it is, the longer the approval process. The bank takes a commission of 1% of the transaction, some banks charge a commission of 1.5-2%. The client is obliged to convert rubles into foreign currency by the end of the working day. The bank changes the transferred funds day after day and at the close of the day it has no rubles left in its accounts. According to Sakharova, there are no requirements for a minimum transfer amount in banks, the maximum depends on the compliance service of the Swiss bank, in addition, clients with a Russian passport are required to comply with Russian federal legislation on currency control. In Russia, according to the law “On Currency Regulation and Currency Control” (173-FZ), banks may require documents to confirm a currency transaction, for example, a document on opening an account, confirmation from the tax office that the client reported about this account, etc. .

“Banks from the top 5 in Switzerland also carried out such transfers in rubles for smaller amounts - we could be talking about an amount equivalent to $100,000, like one of my clients,” Roman Kudinov from LEOLEX told Forbes.

Which banks do this?

All interlocutors interviewed by Forbes refused to name the Swiss banks that are currently conducting ruble transactions, citing the fact that such transactions are “not advertised.” An employee of the family office added that these are at least two of the 10 largest banks in Switzerland. Two Forbes interlocutors - an investment consultant and an employee of one of the Swiss companies - said that previously such transfers were carried out by UBS and Credit Suisse. But, according to an employee of the Swiss company, they have now stopped doing this. Another Forbes interlocutor, who works in the field of consulting with wealthy Russian clients, heard that such transfers were carried out by Vontobel Bank.

Forbes sent inquiries to UBS, Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, Raiffeisen, Zürcher Kantonalbank, EFG International, Lombard Odier, Pictet, Vontobel and Postfinance.

The press service of UBS and Credit Suisse (UBS acquired Credit Suisse in March 2023) reported that now the rules and regulations of banking relations with Russia are established by the relevant authorities, in particular, issues of export controls and sanctions are regulated by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland. Both UBS and Credit Suisse comply with them.

Vontobel declined to comment.

The remaining banks did not respond to Forbes' request.

Do banks violate anything?

Switzerland joined all European sanctions in February 2022, supporting, among other things, the disconnection of a number of the largest Russian banks from SWIFT and a ban on the import of cash euros and Swiss francs into Russia (with exceptions, for example, for diplomats and tourists), the partner recalls BGP Litigation Sergey Glandin. But ruble transfers are not prohibited, unless we are talking about relationships with sanctioned persons and companies. “In this case, this is a question of the toxicity of ruble transfers themselves. Every bank makes a business decision whether it needs it or not,” he told Forbes.

In principle, the ruble itself as a currency is not prohibited in payments, so ruble transfers do not violate sanctions imposed by various countries, said Andrey Timchuk, partner at the law firm Delcredere. In this case, it is more important who the sender is and the sender’s bank. If sanctions are not imposed against them, and the operation is not prohibited by sanctions legislation, then the recipient’s bank does not violate anything. At the same time, bank compliance can pay attention to other aspects - the source of funds and the purpose of the transfer, he added.

In Switzerland, in general, there remains distrust of Russian citizens, including holders of multiple passports, says Vyacheslav Kartamyshev, director of the Finion company. “Today, the priority for Russian clients remains to find a bank that is relatively opaque to US financial regulatory authorities. However, this is the essence of the problem - there are practically no banks (except Russian ones) that can be called 100% free from the influence of US regulatory authorities,” he added. First of all, we are talking about the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the US Department of the Treasury, which monitors whether third countries comply with sanctions against Russia.