Switzerland is a country located in Western Europe with neutral status. It is renowned for its advanced banking and the confidentiality guarantees of money deposited from around the world. It is a federal state consisting of 26 cantons, each enjoying strong autonomy. Considering that Switzerland has four official languages, there might be concerns about verifying a company or business partner from Switzerland. In the face of ongoing global sanctions related to certain types of goods, services, and entities due to international conflicts, knowing who stands behind a business we want to engage with is crucial. How can we verify a company from Switzerland?
Exercising due diligence in partner verification
In today’s world, setting up a company is relatively easy, with many countries allowing online registration. As such, one cannot be sure about the true identity behind a registered name until verification is conducted. Verification involves practices commonly employed in economic intelligence, primarily centered around assessing the credibility and up-to-date documentation of the partner, such as the National Court Register (KRS), Tax Identification Number (NIP), National Business Registry Number (REGON), as well as permits and certificates required for specific activities. Gathering information from relevant institutions and individuals like court registries, social security offices (ZUS), tax authorities, national and international chambers of commerce can facilitate verification. In-depth research into the company’s history, its owners, and opinions about the company, including online searches and inquiries with other entrepreneurs or associates, can provide valuable insights. Failing to exercise due diligence in partner selection can lead to legal consequences, such as being accused of knowingly participating in irregularities, resulting in further tax and legal sanctions.
Economic cooperation with Switzerland
Switzerland ranks as the eighth-largest foreign investor in Poland. By the end of 2017, Swiss investments in Poland amounted to nearly 6 billion euros. The value of Polish direct investments in Switzerland reached almost 1.8 billion EUR, placing Switzerland fourth in terms of foreign capital invested by Poland. The economies of both countries are closely interconnected, with bilateral relations built on longstanding traditions. Swiss industries employ nearly as many people in foreign countries as they do within their own territory. Major corporations and boards have their management centers in Switzerland, while production is outsourced to countries with lower costs. Switzerland offers an appealing tax system and lenient regulations for establishing and operating businesses.
Upon Poland’s accession to the European Union on May 1, 2004, bilateral trade agreements with Switzerland and the EFTA group lost their validity. They were replaced by the Free Trade Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Swiss Confederation of 1972, along with sectoral agreements between the EU and Switzerland in crucial economic areas. Additionally, agreements like the Mutual Promotion and Protection of Investments Agreement from November 8, 1989 (effective from April 18, 1990), and the convention on double taxation avoidance concerning income and wealth taxes from September 2, 1991 (effective from September 25, 1991), modified by the protocol dated April 20, 2010 (effective from October 17, 2011), apply to Polish-Swiss relations. EU membership improved market access for Poland, accompanied by privileged treaty regulations shared with Switzerland.
The 3rd Polish Economic and Technological Forum is scheduled for mid-September 2023 in Bern, Switzerland. The event gathers business, science, technology representatives, as well as stakeholders from Poland and Switzerland. The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Bern, in collaboration with the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, Ministry of Development and Technology of the Republic of Poland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Polish Tourism Organization, Switzerland Global Enterprise, Łukasiewicz Research Network, Polish-Swiss Blockchain Association, and the Polonium Foundation, organizes this event.
National and EU sanctions
For over a year, Polish companies have been scrutinizing cooperation with foreign business partners even more cautiously. Due to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, on June 23, 2023, the European Union imposed its 11th package of sanctions on Russia. Poland has also imposed additional sanctions, targeting key individuals in Russia, companies from both Russia and Belarus. The trade of goods and services with Russian and Belarusian companies is prohibited. Polish entrepreneurs could face a financial penalty of up to PLN 20 million and up to 15 years of imprisonment for violating this restriction. However, Russian and Belarusian entrepreneurs have learned to circumvent international bans, often utilizing complex holding structures established in other countries to obscure the true ownership structure.
Detailed information about the types of transactions affected by the EU prohibition with Belarus and Russia can be found on the European Council’s websites: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/. The Official Journal of the EU at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A02014R0269-20220721 provides a list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions. The Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration maintains a register of sanctioned entities, detailing the connections, reasons for inclusion, and applied sanctions: https://www.gov.pl/web/mswia/lista-osob-i-podmiotow-objetych-sankcjami.
Verifying a Swiss business
To start verifying a Swiss company, it’s wise to check whether it’s listed in any of the aforementioned registers. Useful information can also be found in the Council Regulation (EU) 2022/576 of April 8, 2022, concerning measures limiting Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine.
Economic intelligence: How to verify a Swiss business partner?
Contractor verification can be entrusted to a professional economic intelligence agency experienced in such tasks. Private detectives in cities like Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, or others are well-equipped to access essential information about current or future business partners.
The primary means of verifying a contractor, especially any connections to Belarus or Russia, involves identifying the real beneficiary entity. Subsequently, checking whether this entity is listed on the aforementioned sanctions list maintained by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration is essential. Determinations can be made using the Central Register of Ultimate Beneficial Owners maintained by the Minister of Finance: https://crbr.podatki.gov.pl/adcrbr/#/wyszukaj.
Searching online resources is a publicly available method to gather information about a business partner. Examining the company, its website, and opinions about it could yield valuable insights. If one prefers not to conduct this research personally, a detective agency specializing in professional economic intelligence can assist. Valuable information extends beyond the internet, and inquiring with the Polish Embassy in Bern about a specific entity’s reputation or any complaints from fellow entrepreneurs is another option. Polish-Swiss chambers of commerce may also provide such insights.
Direct inquiry to the contractor
If difficulties arise in determining a business partner’s ownership structure using available registers, an alternative is to approach the partner directly to confirm the identity of the ultimate beneficiary. To validate the response, asking the Swiss entrepreneur to provide supporting documents for their declaration can add credibility.
Polish and EU registers
The Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology, responsible for the economy, maintains a registry of representations of foreign entrepreneurs in its public information bulletin. If the representation of our contractor is found in this registry, it suggests their ongoing existence and operations.
Another such registry for verification is the European Union’s VAT taxpayers registry and the EORI registry. Businesses and individuals engaging in commercial activities within the EU must use an EORI number as an identification number in all customs procedures. The VAT Information Exchange System (VIES), operated by the European Commission, is a search tool to verify whether an entity is registered for intra-community transactions. This is crucial for applying a 0% VAT rate to transactions. If VIES does not confirm a contractor’s registration, a verification request can be submitted to the tax authority of the country where the entity is based. Additionally, confirming whether a company possesses necessary permits and certificates as required by the country is recommended.
The Registry of Insolvent Debtors allows verification of whether a given contractor is listed. Commercial information agencies also provide detailed data on business activities. The Credit Information Bureau (BIK), established by the Polish Banking Association, collects information about the credit history of bank customers, credit unions, and non-bank lending companies.
Swiss Business Registries
Zentraler Firmenindex – The Central Business Names Index (Zefix) enables searching for corporate documents based on the company name or number. Additionally, an advanced search option is available based on the canton, headquarters, and legal form of the company: https://www.zefix.ch/de/search/entity/welcome.
Monetas.ch – It’s a Swiss database of companies and individuals. It’s free and offers various search options by company or individual name. Basic current information can be accessed without registration. For more data, registration is required, but it’s free: https://www.monetas.ch/de/.
Money House is an online database of companies that can be searched by company name or individual’s name. Search results include director names, occasional shareholders, all notifications from the public journal, registered company activities, and more. Search results for individuals encompass previous employments, associated companies, and persons. With an account, more information can be accessed, and subscription options are available: https://www.moneyhouse.ch/.
Schweizerisches Handelsamtsblatt (SHAB) – The Official Swiss Commercial Gazette contains information about changes in companies. The Archive section contains all publications before September 2, 2018, and the Gazette has publications dated after September 2, 2018. Information about changes in commercial registry entries, cancellations, suspensions of bankruptcy proceedings, and other legal publications can be obtained: https://www.shab.ch/#!/gazette.
Local.ch is a Swiss online service allowing searches for information about companies, services, and private individuals. Only the name is required for a search, and for greater precision, a specific location/area for the search can be provided: https://www.local.ch.
SEARCH.CH – This online telephone directory offers searches by address and phone number for both companies and private entities. It can identify all companies registered at the same location: https://www.search.ch/.
It’s worth thoroughly verifying a contractor
Before completing transactions or establishing cooperation with a Swiss business partner, conducting economic intelligence and thorough verification, particularly regarding any links to Belarus or Russia, is advisable. Violating bans imposed on specific types of trade with these countries and specified individuals and companies could result in financial penalties of up to PLN 20 million and imprisonment for 3 to 15 years. Additionally, verifying a contractor and exercising due diligence in their selection is a requirement that always applies to conducting business activities and is a duty of professional market participants.
Do you now know how to verify a Swiss company? If not, or if you need more detailed information, we can assist you. Contact us.