Plundering of Libyan fuel: war crimes proceedings opened in case involving Swiss trading company


Respect for international humanitarian law must prevail over the quest for profits!

According to information published by the online economic crime magazine Gotham City, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has formally opened criminal proceedings for the war crime of pillage in a case involving the Zug-based company Kolmar Group AG. The opening of these proceedings follows a criminal report filed with the OAG by TRIAL International in May 2020. Gotham City notes that the Money Laundering Reporting Office (MROS) also referred the matter to the OAG shortly afterwards. Following a preliminary analysis of the case, the OAG, considering “the suspicions (…) sufficient (…) ordered the opening of criminal proceedings against unknown persons for suspicion of war crimes by engaging in pillage”.

After a year-long investigation, TRIAL International and Public Eye published a joint report in March 2020 concerning a case of alleged pillage of smuggled gasoil belonging to the National Oil Corporation, a Libyan state-owned company. The investigation alleged that the Zug-based trading company had purchased́ the smuggled gasoil from Libya in 2014 and 2015, a time period which coincided with the Second Libyan Civil War. TRIAL International analysed the evidence gathered during the investigation and concluded that the Swiss trader may have been complicit in the war crime of pillage. The NGO therefore filed a criminal denunciation in May 2020.

The OAG will therefore have to determine whether the actions of the Kolmar Group, or certain of its employees, complied with the law. The initiation of proceedings against a Swiss company in such a case is an important step forward in the pursuit of accountability for economic actors who are active in conflict zones. It signals the need for companies operating in such contexts to act with extreme caution to ensure that their actions do not violate international law.

According to Philip Grant, Executive Director of TRIAL International, “the OAG sends a strong signal to all companies operating in conflict zones that their activities must respect international humanitarian law.” TRIAL International points out that the courts rarely deal with such cases. Indeed, no State has ever convicted an economic actor of pillage since the Second World War. The NGO has also filed two other criminal cases against Swiss businessmen for acts of pillage committed in two other contexts, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and The Gambia/Senegal, which are currently being processed by the OAG. For the organization, these cases have the potential to lead to jurisprudence that will clarify for all actors operating in conflict zones or in occupied territories their obligations under international humanitarian law and thus contribute to putting an end to practices that, all too often, directly fuel conflicts.


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