In August 2019, two possible Russian agents were discovered in Davos, who were suspected of carrying out preparatory work for espionage at the World Economic Forum, the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on January 21. As the representative of the police of the canton of Graubünden told the newspaper, law enforcement officers checked the documents from two citizens of Russia. One of them introduced himself as a plumber. At the same time, both had diplomatic passports with them.
Graubünden police were surprised that the Russians intended to stay in Switzerland for three weeks, from August 8 to 28: it is quite expensive for people who, they claim, earn their living by installing pipes and repairing toilets in Russia, the newspaper describes. Press officer of the Russian embassy in Switzerland Stanislav Smirnov explained that not only employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have diplomatic passports. Tages Anzeigen suggests that two Russians were entrusted with preparing the Russian House for the forum. The events in it are organized by the Roscongress Foundation.
The suspects were not accredited in Switzerland as diplomats, and therefore could not have claimed diplomatic immunity in the event of detention, Tages Anzeigen notes. Despite this, the detainees demanded special treatment and even threatened with consequences in case of arrest. The federal police and special services joined in the incident, but in the end the Russians were released. A source from Tages Anzeigen suggested that they could prepare for wiretapping or hacker attacks: their target could be not only the heads of state, but also opponents of the Kremlin, like the former head of Hermitage Capital, William Browder, the newspaper wrote. Browder himself told Reuters that it was he who was the target of the plumbers. However, the police did not find evidence of the intelligence activities of these Russians, the newspaper noted: they were watched, but after that they left the country without hindrance. The Russian embassy rejected suspicions of espionage, the publication added.
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The Russian diplomatic mission in Switzerland told TASS that it was “not informed” about such a case in Davos. “We proceed from the fact that diplomatic passports in Russia are issued to senior officials,” Smirnov told the agency. The fact that one of the Russians called himself a plumber, according to the representative of the embassy, could be an "inappropriate joke." “Once again, the press inflated the article out of nothing,” he concluded.
Russian espionage activity in Switzerland has grown substantially in recent years, says Tages Anzeiger. She said that in 2018 the Hague was detained by a spy team from the GRU on a tip from the Swiss special services. “Another group from the GRU was active for months on Lake Geneva, its traces leading to the poisoning of former agent Sergei Skripal,” the newspaper added. Prior to this, the Bellingcat research group wrote that the Petrov and Boshirov accused by Britain of attempting to assassinate Skripal had indeed been to Switzerland before the attack. Russian authorities say they are not involved in the attack on Skripal.