Swiss police are investigating reports that Austrian customs officers have been involved in illegal information-gathering activities in Switzerland. The allegations come just five days ahead of a visit by the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel.
Austrian customs suspected of spying in Switzerland
Swiss police are investigating reports that Austrian customs officers have been involved in illegal information-gathering activities in Switzerland. The allegations come just five days ahead of a visit to Switzerland by the new Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel.
Austria and its fellow European Union member states have in the past complained that the Swiss authorities do too little to combat smuggling and other customs evasion.
A spokesman for the Federal Police Office confirmed reports in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper that the un-named Austrian officials were suspected of paying Swiss informers for details of gangs smuggling arms, tobacco and meat.
The Federal Police Chief, Urs von Daeniken, told the newspaper that he would react strongly if the suspected activities were confirmed. He said that the customs officers concerned could face arrest and prison terms in Switzerland if they entered the country.
There have been several recent cases of foreign espionage being uncovered in Switzerland. In November 1999 a German official was given a 30-day suspended sentence for trying to spy on the Church of Scientology for German intelligence. An agent of the Israeli secret service, Mossad, caught during a 1998 attempt to bug an alleged terrorist sympathiser in Berne, is due to go on trial in early July.
However, von Daeniken said Vienna had been informed about the officers at the centre of the allegations. This pre-emptive move seems designed to calm a looming dispute between traditionally good neighbours, since the Austrians will be able to transfer the officers to other duties, reducing the risk of a diplomatic incident if they were arrested on Swiss soil.
swissinfo with agencies
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