Russian agents reportedly seized a fortune in luxury watches made by Swiss company Audemars Piguet – a move seen as retaliatory action by the Kremlin after the Swiss government imposed economic sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine .
Members of the Russian secret service, the FSB, took the watches during a raid on a local subsidiary of Audemars Piguet. The value of the seized goods would be the equivalent of several million dollars.
Russian officials said the watches were seized due to customs violations, but Swiss authorities did not believe the explanation.
Swiss foreign ministry officials said in a confidential note that the raid was “most likely an arbitrary repressive measure in response to sanctions”. Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.
The incident occurred weeks after Switzerland abandoned its tradition of neutrality and joined the European Union in enacting sanctions against Russia.
The country has banned the export of luxury goods to Russia as part of several moves to increase economic pressure on the Kremlin to end escalating violence in Ukraine.
Representatives for Audemars Piguet did not immediately return a request for comment.
Audemars Piguet took its own measures to respond to the war. The luxury watchmaker has suspended retail operations in Russia since March 8, according to Bloomberg.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry declined to comment specifically on the incident, citing the need “to ensure the safety of the employees of these companies”.
The department noted that companies doing business in Russia “face many regulatory uncertainties and actions” due to “Russian sanctions and countermeasures,” Bloomberg reported.
Russia imported around $280 million worth of Swiss-made luxury watches in 2021, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
Russia ranked 17th in the worldand-biggest market for watches last year.
During the early days of the war, Russians reportedly bought luxury goods such as jewelry and watches, shifting their money as the value of the ruble creaked in response to international sanctions. Many companies active in the sector have since cut ties with Russia.