The holiday home of Novartis chairman and CEO Daniel Vasella has been badly damaged by fire, a week after his mother's grave was desecrated by animal rights militants.
Although police do not know who or what caused the fire early on Monday morning in the Tyrol, there is speculation that it is the work of the same group that took the urn of Vasella's mother on July 27.
Her gravestone was defiled with a message saying the Basel pharmaceutical company must sever its ties with Britain's Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the largest contract animal-testing company in Europe.
The recent attacks bear the hallmarks of British extremists Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), which in recent months has reportedly targeted Novartis in France, burning down a sports centre and setting fire to company cars.
On Tuesday evening Austrian police confirmed they were "probably" dealing with a criminal act and that they were investigating all possible angles – "including SHAC".
A spokeswoman for SHAC denied any involvement in the recent events, but added that the organisation had many sympathisers "who support our goals". In a statement SHAC said it was willing to meet Novartis and discuss these issues, "but our campaign against them will continue until they stop using HLS".
Grave-robbing is not a new tactic. In October 2004 the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) – which has also targeted Novartis – claimed responsibility for removing from a grave the mother-in-law of a British farm-owner who bred guinea pigs for HLS.
Swiss security services say they have noticed increases in animal rights violence for some time. According to the Swiss Federal Police Office, in 2007 a sixth of cases involving violent extremism involved animal-rights activists.
swissinfo.ch and agencies
In compliance with the JTI standards