Suspected Russian 'plumber' spies found in Davos in 2019

A police officer stands guard near the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 20, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Swiss police last year discovered two suspected Russian agents in the luxury resort town of Davos, including one who claimed to be a plumber, a Swiss newspaper reported on Tuesday (Jan 21).

The paper said the two men, who were stopped but not arrested in August 2019, were suspected of carrying out "preparatory work" for spying on the World Economic Forum, which is taking place in Davos this week.

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

The paper reported that "at least one of the men" said he was a plumber and that they had told police they were staying in the expensive resort town for three weeks between Aug 8 and Aug 28, arousing suspicion.

The annual summit brings together top global political and business leaders, with US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among those attending this year, making it an obvious potential target for a spying operation.

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

"I don't rule out that it may have been people with Russian diplomatic passports - they do not necessarily need to be accredited in Switzerland," Mr Smirnov said.

Asked why one of the men had claimed to be a plumber, Mr Smirnov said it may have been a "stupid joke" by the man.

Tages Anzeiger said the men may have been preparing a wiretapping or hacking operation in Davos, and cited several sources saying that Russian officials "threatened diplomatic consequences if the men were arrested".

The paper said the Swiss Attorney-General's Office had not opened criminal proceedings into the Davos incident.

But Switzerland has been probing two alleged Russian agents for planning a cyber attack on the Spiez laboratory in Bern, which does analytical work for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The lab at the time was investigating the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent.

Swiss authorities also suspect Russia of being behind a cyber attack on the Lausanne office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

WADA has been a thorn in Moscow's side for several years over drug cheating in Russian sport.

The Montreal-based watchdog suspended Russia's Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 after declaring it to be non-compliant following evidence of a vast plan backed by Moscow to cheat at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

WADA has since imposed a four-year ban on Russia from major sporting events, which Moscow is appealing.

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