Switzerland investigates Yanukovich associates over money laundering

ZURICH, March 23 Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:25am EDT

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ZURICH, March 23 (Reuters) - Switzerland's public prosecutor has opened two formal money laundering investigations into unnamed associates of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said on Sunday.

Switzerland has already ordered a freeze on 29 Ukrainians' assets, including those of Yanukovich, who is suspected of human rights abuses and misuse of state funds.

"The state public prosecutor can only open an investigation when there is a reasonable suspicion of possible punishable behaviour," the spokeswoman said in the statement.

"In connection with the notification from Switzerland's money laundering reporting office last week, this was confirmed after a thorough analysis."

The investigations were opened on Thursday after notifications from the federal police unit tasked with liaising with Swiss banks in cases of suspected money laundering, she said.

One investigation centred on two people from Yanukovich's entourage, she said. The public prosecutor's office did not provide details of the second investigation.

It is not known how much money Ukrainian politicians, their families, or other people close to them hold in Switzerland, nor how much has been frozen by banks since the Swiss measures began to come into force at the end of February.

Pro-Russian Yanukovich was toppled on Feb. 22 amid street protests in Kiev over his decision to ditch a trade deal with Europe in favour of economic ties with former Soviet overlord Russia.

Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, has said loans worth $37 billion went missing from state coffers during Yanukovich's rule.

In addition to the missing $37 billion, Yatseniuk told parliament as much as $70 billion had been sent out of the country during Yanukovich's three-year rule, although he did not make clear how much of this capital flight was illegal. (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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