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Espionage Germany alleged to have spied on Swiss firms in Austria

Novartis' Sandoz unit  in Austria

Novartis' Sandoz unit is one of the dozen Swiss firms alleged to have been targeted in the long-running German spying operation in Austria

(Sandoz Österreich )

A dozen branches of Swiss firms in Austria were targeted by German spies between 1999 and 2006, according to the SonntagsBlick newspaper which has seen documents belonging to Germany’s federal intelligence service BND. Part of the data was allegedly handed to the United States. 

The Sunday newspaper said the Swiss firms targeted by German spies in Austria included the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, which belongs to the Novartis Group, the logistics firm Panalpina, and the Zug firm Bossard, which specializes in producing screws, nuts and bolts.

According to SonntagsBlick, surveillance began in 1999 and lasted until 2006. It is unclear what information German spies gathered, but part of the data was sent to the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States, the paper claimed. 

The Swiss firms affected refuse to comment on the affair, citing ongoing investigations. The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service confirmed it was aware of the case and said it was combatting such espionage “with its own means”. 

“No such thing among friendly states”

Last month, Austria called on Germany to fully clarify allegations that German intelligence agents systematically spied on politicians, international organizations and companies on Austrian territory, as reported by two newspapers.

The daily Der Standard and weekly Profil reported that between 1999 and 2006, Germany’s federal intelligence service BND spied on around 2,000 targets at political institutions, international organizations, banks, companies and weapons producers in Austria. They included the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US and Iranian embassies, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as Austrian ministries, banks, companies and news agency APA, they said.

Der Standard and Profil said their information was based on BND files, which were given to them by a German source. 

Commenting on the news, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters in Vienna on June 16: “There must be no such thing among friendly states.”

Allegations that Germany’s intelligence services helped the Americans spy on European officials and firms first surfaced in 2014, and Austria filed a legal complaint a year later.

But the sheer extent of spying activities, if verified, was new, Kurz said. 

The chancellor said his government had been in contact with the German authorities and that they seemed to be willing to cooperate. 

RTS/Reuters/sb

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