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Switzerland probing former Russian minister for embezzlement

Swiss authorities are investigating a former Russian agriculture minister over suspected money laundering and have frozen assets in connection with the case, Switzerland’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general (OAG) confirmed in an email “the opening of a criminal proceeding in spring 2013 against a former Russian minister of agriculture and other accused persons on suspicion of qualified money laundering.”

“In this context, the OAG has seized assets,” it added, without naming suspects or specifying the amounts in question.

Russian media reported Wednesday that Swiss authorities had seized 60 million Swiss francs ($61 million, 55 million euros) in accounts belonging to Yelena Skrynnik, who served as Russian agriculture minister between 2009 and 2012, and who reportedly now lives in the wealthy Alpine country.

According to the Interfax news agency, “around $140 million were injected into Mrs. Skrynnik’s Swiss accounts between 2007 and 2012, which raises some serious questions.”

The attorney general’s office said it had requested mutual legal assistance from Russian authorities, but that the request “has not been executed until now”.

In August, the OAG confirmed it had opened a probe against a former Russian deputy agriculture minister suspected of embezzling some one billion rubles ($15.7 million, 14.2 million euros) in public funds.

That money had been siphoned from the state-owned Rosagroleasing company, which leases agricultural machinery and has itself been embroiled in a financial scandal in Russia, it said.

The OAG did not identify the former deputy minister involved, but media at the time named him as Alexej Baschanow who worked under Skrynnik.

The attorney general’s office said it had limited its investigation to analysing the accounts and businesses controlled by him and his family members in the wealthy Alpine country.

It had passed on its findings to Russian authorities, who had asked that Switzerland freeze the man’s accounts and hand over all documents related to them.