Attorney General gets green light to prosecute alleged Russian spies

The Spiez laboratory, near Bern. which was allegedly the target of Russian spies Keystone

The Federal Council has given the official go-ahead for criminal proceedings to be launched against two Russian nationals suspected of spying, most probably against the government-run Spiez Laboratory near Bern.

This content was published on October 23, 2018

“The Prosecutor’s Office was given the green light today by the justice ministry to go ahead with an investigation into suspected political espionage,” André Marty, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland, told Swiss public radio, RSI, on Tuesday.

“I can confirm that the procedure was opened in March 2017 and has been pending ever since. But we can’t give further details.”

In Switzerland, the prosecution of political offences is subject to the authorisation of the Federal Council (seven-member executive body). This authorisation is delegated to the justice ministry.

In March 2017, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland opened an investigation against two alleged Russian spies suspected of having carried out a cyberattack against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose European headquarters is in Lausanne.

In spring 2018, the same two Russian spies were reportedly on their way to the Spiez laboratory, near Bern, Switzerland, when they were detained in the Netherlands and sent back to Russia. 

The Swiss government-run facility analyses chemical and biological weapons, including the nerve agent Novichok, which Britain says Russia used to try to murder a former spy, and suspected poison gas deployed in Syria. Russia has roundly dismissed the spying allegations.

+ How Moscow reacted to Swiss allegations over Russian spying

Relations between Switzerland and Russia have been strained in recent weeks following the specific spying claims and reports that Russian diplomats were suspected of large-scale espionage in Switzerland.

The latest formal authorisation gives the Attorney General’s office the possibility of imposing coercive measures on suspected Russian spies. However, owing to the political nature of the offence, an international arrest warrant is unlikely. A national arrest warrant for Swiss territory may be an option.

Recently, the Swiss authorities took this step in a controversial diplomatic case. In mid-June, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland issued a national warrant for two Turkish diplomats for allegedly kidnapping a Swiss businessman in Turkey.  

The Swiss man is supposed to have been a supporter of the Gülen movement, which the Turkish regime says was responsible for the attempted coup that took place in July 2016. The alleged kidnapping was attempted a month after the coup. The Turkish foreign minister denied the allegations. The Swiss authorities said they would arrest the Turkish nationals if they entered Switzerland.

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