The Swiss Attorney General’s office has opened criminal proceedings into allegations of political espionage surrounding the Turkish community in Switzerland. The move comes amid a political spat between Switzerland and Turkey ahead of a Turkish constitutional referendum.
On Friday, the Attorney General’s office confirmed reports on Swiss public television (SRF) of criminal proceedings initiated this month. In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said there was “concrete evidence” that political secret service espionage had taken place.
The Attorney General alerted the cabinet to these suspicions and received the go-ahead to proceed by the Justice Ministry, the statement read.
Upon inquiry by swissinfo.ch, the Attorney General’s office did not provide any details about the suspected espionage such as when or where it is thought to have taken place, citing the ongoing investigation.
In mid-March, reports in the Swiss press revealed that people at a University of Zurich event about the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet noticed two men using their smartphones to take sly photos of guests. The same happened at a public lecture on the Armenian genocide.
University Rector Michael Hengartner released a statement saying that his institution would not tolerate such behaviour and would investigate it further.
On April 16, Turkish voters will decide on a referendum on whether to revise the constitution to boost President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's powers. Earlier this month, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had tried to rally support among the Turkish diaspora in Switzerland, but had to abandon his address as a venue could not be found.
On Thursday, during a visit by Çavuşoğlu to Bern, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter publicly rebuked his Turkish counterpart. A press release stated that Burkhalter had "underscored the validity of Swiss law on Swiss soil, urged Turkey to comply with it, and said that Switzerland would rigorously investigate illegal intelligence activities".
“Freedom of expression is a universal value recognised by Switzerland, which hopes that this freedom will also hold true for Turkish citizens whether they cast their votes in Switzerland or in their own country,” the statement quoted Burkhalter as saying.
German, Austrian and Dutch politicians have cancelled meetings with Turkish politicians in recent weeks.
Ankara has accused its European allies of using "Nazi methods" by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns.
According to Swiss government statistics, around 68,000 Turkish citizens live in Switzerland, a nation of 8.3 million whose population is a quarter foreign. The Turkish embassy's website refers to around 130,000 Turkish citizens in Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch and agencies