A top Swiss law enforcement official has been found guilty of accepting lavish gifts from Russia, including a bear hunting trip in Siberia, but will not be punished, judges have ruled.
The decision by Switzerland’s top criminal court on Friday followed hours of explosive testimony earlier in the week exposing sensitive, unofficial links between the alpine state’s powerful federal prosecutor’s office and its Russian counterpart.
The revelations — which included the disclosure that Russian officials had intensively lobbied Swiss prosecutors on delicate cases such as the Magnitsky affair in a series of discreet off-diary meetings in expensive restaurants and on elaborate holidays and day-trips — come at a particularly challenging time for Swiss law enforcement.
The criminal proceedings in Bellinzona concern Mr Lauber’s top Russia expert, “Viktor K”, an individual he handpicked from Switzerland’s federal police to advise him on complicated white-collar cases relating to Russia and to act as a roving representative for him outside of official legal processes.
Swiss judges have ruled Viktor K’s real identity cannot be revealed.
“This verdict makes Switzerland a banana republic,” said Bill Browder, the former employer of Mr Magnitsky, who has become one of the Kremlin’s most vociferous and successful international critics.
Mr Magnitsky, a lawyer, died in a Russian jail in 2009 after exposing a massive fraud by Russian officials. Mr Browder has turned the case into an international cause célèbre. “The [Swiss] law enforcement system under Lauber is completely compromised by the Russians,” Mr Browder said.
Viktor K was originally convicted of the charge of “acceptance of an advantage” — a concept in Swiss law regarded as a lesser, preliminary form of bribery — last June.
The case this week was an appeals hearing. Judges ruled that the original verdict was sound, but quashed the punishment. Mr K’s lawyer, Dominic Nellen, argued his client, who had no decision making powers in the federal prosecutor’s office, had been unduly punished for simply doing the job he was briefed to do by his superiors.
Hours of testimony from senior officials on Tuesday exposed fresh details of Mr K’s “fluid” role and of the links between Swiss federal prosecutors and Russian officials for the first time.
At the centre of the case was a bear hunting expedition to Kamchatka Mr K was taken on in August 2016.
Mr K maintained he had no knowledge of the nature of the trip, which involved flights across Russia and private helicopters to take a small group deep into the Siberian wilderness, until he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He also told the court he had no idea who paid for the expedition, speculating it could have been one of several Russian oligarchs.
“In Russia, whoever has the money, pays,” Mr K told the court, characterising his position as complicated by a huge cultural gulf between Russia and Switzerland, where he bemoaned the miserliness of official hospitality rules.
At times the case dwelled on minor details, as judges probed what clothes Mr K had packed, the number of bunk beds per room in the Siberian “barracks” he had stayed in, and the price of the three bottles of whisky and Swiss chocolate he took with him as gifts.
But other details, including hours of talks on open Swiss legal cases, may raise more serious questions.
Mr K’s testimony could prove critical in challenging the basis of other Swiss verdicts, indictments or investigations by exposing bias at the heart of the country’s legal establishment towards Moscow’s agenda. While the hearing in Bellinzona was closed to the public, representatives of several prominent Swiss law firms were present in the press gallery taking notes on Mr K’s case.
Mr K was taken on the Kamchatka trip — as well as on at least two other expeditions — by Saak Karapetyan, Russia’s deputy state prosecutor, a close ally of president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Karapetyan, who was responsible for organising contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, via the lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, and was also responsible for Russia’s obfuscation of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK, died in a helicopter crash in October 2018.
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