Switzerland – publishing the 10 fines for breaching sanctions imposed by SECO: Part 3 – cases 7-8

This is the third  instalment in our series of publishing the 10 final administrative criminal decisions reached by SECO in Switzerland. The examples below relate to Russian and Belarusian sanctions.

7.   Final administrative criminal decision dated 19 September 2023

Original: 2023-09-19 – I.60 – Strafbescheid

Translation: 2023-09-19 – I.60 – Strafbescheid_Translated to English

This final decision relates to a company which sought to export to Belarus an embossing roll used in the embossing of cigarette packaging. The value of the products was stated as €21,300. The products were stopped at Zürich airport customs and an investigation was commenced.

The company sought to argue that, while its product was covered by the customs code annexed to the Swiss regulation it was not “machinery” and so not covered by the wording of the export prohibition contained in art. 6 of the Belarus Ordinance.

SECO disagreed saying that if the product was covered by the customs code included in the Annex then it was covered by the prohibition in the Ordinance itself but invited the company to seek (if it wished) a ruling as to whether an embossing roll fell within customs code 8420.9120.

The company sought that ruling and the FOCBS confirmed that the rolls were properly covered by that number.

The company then communicated to SECO that based on the company’s own view that its product was a part and not itself machinery “the only criticism that can therefore be made of our company is its interpretation of the regulatory provisions“.

SECO disagreed and found that the company was in negligent, but not intentional, breach of the sanctions with the company having “a responsibility to carefully analyse the embargo orders imposed by Switzerland and to take the necessary measures to avoid contravening them [and that] additional checks on the classification of its products before the conclusion of new orders to Belarus were reasonably required“.

SECO, however, determined that the appropriate course was reliance on the provisions permitting a fine of CHF 5,000 or less in order to avoid a disproportionate investigation to determine individual culpability.

The company was also given credit for cooperation and was fined CHF 3,000 plus CHF 1,070 in costs.

Comment: Given that the company said it carefully analysed the regulations in question and that it sought to rely on what it saw as an inconsistency between the customs codes listed in the Annex which attached to their products, and the company’s narrow reading of the wording of the prohibition in the Ordinance, a regulator or prosecutor might have been entitled to conclude that the breach was intentional. The company knew that the product code attached to its goods was barred from export to Belarus.

There is also scope for querying the mitigation credit for cooperation in the circumstances of this investigation.

8.   Final administrative criminal decision dated 28 September 2023

Original: 2023-09-28 – I.71 Strafbescheid

Translation: 2023-09-28 – I.71 – Strafbescheid_Translated to English

The company sought to export 700 rubber seals (customs code 4016.93) and 3,750 valves (customs code 8481.20) to Russia. The products were stopped by customs at Geneva Airport in December 2022. The goods were valued at €69,315.

On 1 January 2022 the company had written to SECO to obtain advice on whether it could export its products to Russia. It was not until 2 June 2022 that SECO replied stating that the products were prohibited from export to Russia but that for contracts which pre-dated 28 April 2022 there was a sunset provision enabling export up until 29 July 2022.

Further, because the products were for use in prosthetic knees, there was a licence exception for medical goods that was available.

Nonetheless the company proceeded to try and export the products in December 2022 without applying for the available licence.

After the commencement of the investigation the company applied for, and obtained a licence permitting export of the goods.

SECO emphasized that “a request for a derogation must have been submitted to SECO prior to any sale, delivery and export, and SECO must have granted the necessary approval. It is not possible to legalize the sale, supply or export of goods listed in Annex 23 unlawfully by an authorization granted on a retroactive basis. … The fact that the goods in question were issued at the beginning of February 2023 for a use in accordance with the law is irrelevant to the question of the lawfulness of the sale, delivery and export of the goods in December 2022“.

Despite the company having been told in writing that the unlicensed export of the products to Russia would certainly be prohibited after July 2022, SECO proceeded on the basis that the breach was negligent and not intentional.

The company was fined CHF 1,000 with costs of CHF 1,270.

Comment: Practitioners will note the clarity of the view from SECO as to the impossibility of retrospective authorisation.

It is also seems likely, however, that the medical nature of the products in question played a role in the generous conclusion of a negligent rather than intentional breach in the circumstances of this case.



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