Russian Gold Trail Leads To Switzerland


Since the beginning of Russia’s war on Ukraine last year, 75 tonnes of gold of Russian origin have ended up in Swiss gold refineries and foundries, media reports reveal.

By Marcel Niedermann

What role has the Swiss gold industry played in helping fund Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine?  Joint research carried out by reporters from Swiss public television, SRF, and Die Wochenzeitung WOZ hoped to answer this question. They found that gold refineries in Switzerland have processed large quantities of gold of Russian origin via London in recent years.

A total of 110 tonnes of gold, worth over CHF6 billion ($6.6 billion), have passed through Swiss-based refineries since 2021. Since the start of the war in March 2022 alone, 75 tonnes have been processed in Switzerland. These figures are confirmed by data from the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security.

The numbers point to a sharp increase in imports of Russian gold into Switzerland. Before the war, Switzerland imported on average 20 tonnes of Russian gold per year. During the first five months of this year, 38 tonnes of gold from Russia made its way to Switzerland via London.

Gold from Moscow via UK to Switzerland

The Russian gold arrives via the UK. Until 2018, Russia exported only a small amount of gold to the UK. Volumes then exploded. From 2019 until the outbreak of the war last year, Russia sold over 700 tonnes of gold to London – worth over CHF34 billion – as confirmed by British foreign trade figures.

Swiss precious metals expert Bernhard Schnellmann has an explanation for the increase. “The Russian central bank stopped buying gold in mid-2019 and then later cancelled valued-added tax (VAT) on gold,” he says. Gold exports then increased massively.

Gold exports as ‘preparations for war’

Former criminal law professor and gold trading expert Mark Pieth has a different explanation. He sees a clear link with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “I assume that these sales were about preparations for war,” he says.

Pieth suspects Russia might have helped finance preparations for war in Ukraine via massive gold exports, as well as earnings from gas and oil sales.

The fact that this gold was probably also processed in Switzerland is problematic, Pieth says. The Russian regime is currently not making any money from this business. “If Swiss refineries now import and remelt this gold, that is legally unproblematic but ethically very questionable,” he says.

Marc Ummel, head of commodities at Swissaid, agrees.

Via the refining, “ethically questionable Russian gold” becomes gold with a Swiss seal of approval. “You lose the traceability of the gold, which is very problematic,” Ummel says.

Swiss refineries reject criticism

The gold refineries in Switzerland do not see any link between the processing of gold of Russian origin and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

“This gold is not sanctioned and has nothing to do with being ethical or unethical. It was produced before the war started,” says Christoph Wild, head of the Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metals.

In so far as it can be proven that the gold in question was exported from Russia to the UK before the war and sanctions began, he sees no ethical problems in refining this gold.

“It’s not about letting Russian gold just disappear,” Wild says.

‘Everything is legal’

In Switzerland there is a ban on “buying, importing or transporting” gold from Russia. This was decided by the Swiss government in August 2022.

As regards the recent imports of gold of Russian origin into Switzerland, the Swiss customs administration insists that “everything is legal”.

The imports have been checked, it says. Although the gold originally came from Russia, it was exported to the UK in February 2022 before the war began, says Swiss customs. It does not come directly from Russia and therefore does not serve to directly finance the war, it argues.


swissinfo is an enterprise of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Its role is to inform Swiss living abroad about events in their homeland and to raise awareness of Switzerland in other countries. swissinfo achieves this through its nine-language internet news and information platform.

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