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Switzerland’s dark business with Ukrainian coal

Switzerland’s dark business with Ukrainian coal

Pro-Russian separatists are financing their war in Ukraine with coal deliveries to the West. Now the role of Swiss companies in Zug and Geneva is being investigated, according to a reportexternal link in the SonntagsZeitung.

Fontus AGexternal link describes itself on its website as a “reliable and responsible supplier of high-grade solid fuels”, selling “coal of Russian and Kazakh production”.

The Ukrainian judiciary sees things differently: it has named the Zug-based company in a criminal case concerning the illegal import of hard coal from the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which is occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

In addition to Fontus, the judiciary has named three other companies that are domiciled in Switzerland or whose owners are Swiss. They are not directly accused, but the Swiss are said to have helped Ukrainian companies export the “black gold” to Ukraine and EU countries, the SonntagsZeitung reported.

Other than Siberia, Donbass is the only region in Europe and Russia where anthracite is mined. Blast furnaces from Western European steelworks are fired with this high-quality type of hard coal, as are Ukrainian power stations. The benefactors are oligarchs and warlords in the occupied territories.

Importing this coal is legal in both the European Union and Switzerland. However, the EU and the US have imposed sanctions on companies and individuals who were involved in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea or who were associated with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in 2014.

Switzerland’s measures would correspond to those of the EU, says a spokesman for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

A Swiss representative of Fontus told the SonntagsZeitung “with certainty that the company does not trade in Donbass coal”.

In addition, in the Ukrainian court document the representative sees “no mention whatsoever of the fact that Fontus AG is involved in criminal proceedings”. However, he does not want to name the owners of the company.

Another firm registered at the same Zug address as Fontus is The Global Investment Partnership, whose board of directors lives in Luhansk, a centre of Donbass separatists.

The SonntagsZeitung adds that the company was founded in 2014, shortly after Luhansk had renounced Ukraine. But the company has nothing to do with the export of coal, says a Swiss representative.