Fri, 21 Feb 2020

Police in Switzerland suspect a pair of Russians they probed five months ago in Davos were Russian intelligence agents, a detailed report by Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger said on January 21.

The published account, citing Swiss police and federal officials, said both men had diplomatic passports and were in the beginning stage of a Russian spying operation.

The Russian Embassy in Bern told the BBC that the newspaper was just trying to "whip out a scandal out of nothing" on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum, a gathering that started on January 21 involving a rare clustering of global political and business power.

According to the Swiss newspaper, police were alerted to the two Russian's long stay -- three weeks -- at the luxury resort town between August 8 and August 28.

When approached, one of the Russians claimed he was a plumber and both men produced diplomatic passports.

'It was a regular police check. Both men had Russian diplomatic passports but were not formally registered as diplomats in Switzerland,' Anita Senti, a spokeswoman for the local cantonal police in Graubuenden, told AFP.

'We did not receive any information about this from Swiss authorities. There is no evidence of spying,' Russian embassy spokesman Stanislav Smirnov told AFP.

Asked why one of the men said he was a plumber, Smirnov said it may have been a 'stupid joke' by him.

However, Tages-Anzeiger reported that the two unidentified Russians were planning to install surveillance equipment at key facilities around Davos.

The newspaper further reported that Russian officials "threatened diplomatic consequences if the men were arrested."

No criminal proceedings were opened into the incident, the newspaper said.

Switzerland's security services have observed increased Russian intelligence activity in the country in recent years.

Authorities have since 2017 been investigating a large-scale Russian spy ring targeting the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration of Sport.

Russia currently is subject to a four-year ban by WADA on participation in major sporting events, which Moscow is appealing with the sports arbitration court.

A report in 2018 by the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service found that one in for Russian diplomats in Switzerland was a spy.

Two alleged agents from the Russian military intelligence unit, known as the GRU, have since 2018 been under investigation for spying on a laboratory in Bern, which conducts work for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The lab has analyzed evidence of suspected chemical weapons use from the war in Syria and in March earlier that year was investigating the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent.

Two main suspects in the poisoning -- alleged GRU operatives Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov -- said they ran a sports nutrition business and had made six trips to Geneva immediately before the assassination attempt in England to relax.

With reporting by Tages-Anzeiger, AFP, Financial Times, and the BBC

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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