"The Federal Office of Justice has complied with a request for mutual legal assistance from the Office of the Attorney General of Ukraine, freezing assets held by a high-ranking representative of the regime of former President Victor Yanukovych, and ordering the seizure of banking records," spokesman Folco Galli said in a statement on Tuesday, confirming information that had appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper.
"The justice office does not have any information on the extent of the assets that have been frozen. The assets in question are some of those that had previously been frozen as of 28 February 2014 on the basis of a Federal Council ordinance."
Switzerland was among the first countries to freeze at least CHF170 million ($174 million) in assets of Ukraine's deposed president, as well around 30 other people in his entourage, shortly after Yanukovych was deposed earlier in February 2014. It also launched a money laundering investigation into him and his son. A separate probe against Yanukovych and his entourage is underway in Geneva.
Tuesday's statement continued that the Office of the Attorney General of Ukraine had submitted the request for mutual legal assistance to the justice office as part of criminal proceedings on the grounds of the embezzlement of assets, the abuse of power and office, fraud and money laundering.
This is the first time that the Swiss justice authorities have ruled in favour of a legal request concerning the Yanukovych case, Galli added. But he pointed out that the legal assistance request did not concern the former president himself. The person in question is also part of criminal proceedings conducted by the office.
The justice office is conducting the legal assistance proceedings on its own authority - as it is permitted to do in complex or particularly important cases under the Mutual Assistance Act. It has delegated execution of the legal assistance measures requested to the Federal Prosecutor's Office of Switzerland.
The Ukrainian request for mutual legal assistance of February 11, 2015 extends and replaces a previous request. Three further requests for mutual legal assistance remain pending as they require further information to proceed, explained Galli.
The NZZ article says that it is likely to be a long time before any monies are returned to Ukraine, as the procedure could be subject to legal challenges by the affected person. A legally enforceable seizure order from Ukraine is also needed.
Interpol placed Yanukovych on its wanted list in January this year. He is accused by Ukrainian officials of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds.
He was deposed in February 2014 after thousands of people took part in street protests against his pro-Russia stance