Swiss Federal Tribunal
Since 2003, Russian authorities have sent requests for mutual legal assistance to their counterparts in various countries where Yukos or other enterprises connected to Khodorkovsky conducted business. These countries have included Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and others.
In a landmark decision in August 2007, the Swiss Federal Tribunal – Switzerland’s highest court – ruled that Swiss authorities must not comply with their Russian counterparts’ requests for assistance concerning Khodorkovsky/Yukos cases. The Tribunal validated a series of appeals from Khodorkovsky and several of his former business associates who had asserted that if Swiss authorities assisted their Russian counterparts in response to requests for documents, asset freezes and such actions, grave moral and legal injustices would result.
The judgment cited several legal violations in the criminal proceedings against Khodorkovsky and his associates, and deemed those proceedings to be politically motivated. In assessing the evidence, the Tribunal stated: “All of these facts, taken together, clearly corroborate the suspicion that criminal proceedings have indeed been used as an instrument by the power in place, with the goal of bringing to heel the class of rich ‘oligarchs’ and sidelining potential or declared political adversaries.” According to the judges, “Switzerland would be in breach of its international obligations if it cooperated with a foreign criminal proceeding presenting a risk of treatment of an accused, particularly discriminatory treatment, which is inconsistent with minimal guarantees recognised under international law.” The Tribunal also revealed details of Russia’s inability or refusal to satisfy Switzerland’s requests for justifications regarding the Khodorkovsky-related requests: Russia’s responses to legitimate Swiss questions were deemed “scattered and evasive” and without credibility.
This was the first time in history, outside of extradition cases, that Switzerland rejected a mutual legal assistance request from authorities in another country.
In a prelude to its landmark 2007 decision, in 2004, after $5 billion in assets in various Yukos-connected accounts had been frozen upon Russia’s request, the Swiss Federal Tribunal unfroze more than 90% of these assets. The Tribunal found no link between the unfrozen assets and the ostensibly related criminal charges that Russia had brought against Khodorkovsky, and indeed found that the criminal allegations against Khodorkovsky were deficient. The majority of the assets that had been targeted by the Russian authorities were shares held by Veteran Petroleum, the pension fund that had been established for former Yukos employees as one of the company’s groundbreaking corporate social responsibility initiatives.