(Corrects headline, and story throughout, to make clear FINMA told banks to halt new business, not freeze assets, after FINMA corrected the statement on its website)
By Michael Shields and Paul Carrel
ZURICH (Reuters) -Switzerland told its banks on Friday to halt new business with people and entities on a European Union sanctions blacklist, which the neutral country has adopted to ensure it is not used to circumvent measures against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The instruction from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) ratchets up the pressure Bern is exerting in solidarity with the West while still trying to keep the door open to a potential role as a mediator.
“Financial intermediaries in Switzerland are thus prohibited from entering into new business relationships with the individuals and companies newly included in Annex 3. The financial intermediaries are also obliged to report existing business relationships with these individuals, companies and organisations to (government agency) SECO without delay,” FINMA said on its website.
The government had earlier amended its https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-87356.htmlwatchlist ordinance to include 363 individuals and four companies that the EU had put on its sanctions list this week to punish Moscow.
Russians held nearly 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($11.21 billion) in Switzerland in 2020, Swiss National Bank data show.
“For the Federal Council (cabinet) it is clear that Switzerland will directly adopt all measures of the EU concerning persons and groups. For example, these persons are no longer allowed to enter Switzerland,” Economy Minister Guy Parmelin told a news conference in Bern on Friday.
But this did not preclude Switzerland’s acting as a go-between to help halt the conflict, officials said.
“Our position, and above all my goal, is to leave the doors open so that we can do what most other countries can no longer do – keep channels open between countries that no longer have diplomatic relations. Switzerland can provide this added value,” President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said.
It was tricky for Switzerland to offer itself as a mediator as it should wait to be approached, Cassis said. But he added: “We are in contact and have held talks.”
He did not specify with whom Switzerland had been in touch. ($1 = 0.9278 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Michael Shields and Paul Carrel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)