Swiss freeze additional $20 million in Syrian assets


Switzerland has frozen another 20 million Swiss francs ($20.59 million) of funds belonging to top Syrian officials, bringing the total to date to 70 million francs, the government said on Monday.

Switzerland introduced sanctions on Syria last year to try to pressure the government to end a crackdown on its opponents, saying in December it had frozen 50 million francs of assets belonging to President Bashar al-Assad and other officials.

“The extra 20 million brings the total to 70 million Swiss francs as a result of sanctions being extended,” State Secretariat for Economic Affairs spokeswoman Marie Avet said.

“Sometimes the structures are quite complicated, making it difficult to identify the owner of the assets, and new information also helped us to identify more assets.”

In March, the Swiss government added seven names - most of them ministers - to the list of top Syrian officials facing sanctions.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten gains, seizing the assets of numerous deposed dictators and agreeing in 2009 to soften strict bank secrecy to help other countries catch tax cheats.

Swiss state prosecutors said last month they had opened criminal proceedings against Syrian and Libyan citizens on suspicion of money laundering.

Questionable asset flows identified by Swiss authorities reached a record high of more than 3 billion Swiss francs in 2011, lifted in part by wealthy North Africans who sought to move assets into the country as the Arab Spring raged. ($1 = 0.9713 Swiss francs)