Russian agents have seized millions of dollars worth of Audemars Piguet watches in Moscow in apparent retaliation for Swiss sanctions banning exports of luxury goods, Bloomberg reported, citing Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag.
The watches, which can cost more than £700,000 each, were seized from the company’s premises on Tuesday by agents of Russia’s FSB security service, the newspaper said. He cited independent sources and a confidential memo from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs prepared for parliamentarians that apparently gave details of the raid.
Switzerland abandoned its traditional neutral position and followed other Western governments in imposing sanctions banning the export of luxury goods to Russia earlier this month in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Swiss MP Roger Köppel first revealed the information on a YouTube video.
Russian authorities reportedly cited customs violations as the reason for the seizure of the watches, but Swiss foreign ministry officials said the move was “most likely an arbitrary repressive measure in response to sanctions”, the newspaper reported, citing the memo.
Audemars Piguet officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. The Swiss watchmaker announced that it would stop its exports to Russia and suspend its retail activities there, closing two stores in Moscow at the end of February.
A spokesperson for the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Swiss Embassy in Moscow provides business support in Russia in coordination with other departments and that “within the framework of Russian sanctions and countermeasures, the companies face many uncertainties and regulatory measures”.
“The embassy is currently maintaining a very intensive exchange” with local Swiss businesses in Russia, the spokesperson said in an email response to Bloomberg News. “Individual cases therefore cannot be commented on, also to ensure the safety of the employees of these companies.”
For many of Europe’s leading consumer-facing companies, a large-scale exit from Russia has proven difficult. Companies, including Swiss packaged food giant Nestle SA, have thousands of employees and sensitive production facilities that risk being seized and recriminated by Russia if they were to leave.
Family-owned and controlled for nearly 150 years, Audemars Piguet is one of the three largest independent Swiss watch brands, along with Patek Philippe and Rolex.
Russia was the 17th largest export market for Swiss watches in 2021, accounting for 260m Swiss francs (£212m) in shipments, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.