The Netherlands has expelled two suspected Russian spies for supposedly planning to hack a Swiss lab that was investigating the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal.
European and Dutch intelligence agencies arrested the unidentified men in The Hague this spring after the March poisoning of Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia. Dutch news agencies NRC and Tages-Anzeiger first reported the arrest Thursday night, citing unnamed sources.
The sources said the two men worked for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, known in English by the acronym GRU. The suspects had equipment allowing them to break into the computer system at the Spiez lab, which analyzes data for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. At the time, OPCW was investigating the Skripal poisoning and chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
“The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and expelled from the same place,” Isabelle Graber, head of communications for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service, said in a statement to Britain’s The Guardian.
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“The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service participated actively in this operation together with its Dutch and British partners. The FIS has thus contributed to the prevention of illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure.”
The two men are not the same suspects accused of carrying out the poisoning of the Skripals — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — who were charged on Sept. 5.
Prosecutors said they used surveillance video and passport records to tie Petrov and Boshirov to the attack. Officials said they traveled from Moscow to London using Russian passports two days before the poisonings.
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The men will also be charged with possession of novichok, a deadly Soviet-era poison that’s banned by the Chemical Weapons Act. Police say the nerve agent was smuggled into the country in a perfume bottle.
Prosecutors believe the men sprayed novichok on the front door of the Skripals’ home in Salisbury. Both Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal became seriously ill, but ultimately recovered.
Months later, two Britons, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, were poisoned by the same nerve agent. Sturgess died, but no one has been charged in that case. Authorities believe the pair somehow came into contact with the same novichok that sickened the Skripals.
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Britain, the United States and other Western nations have accused the Russian government of having the Skripals poisoned. The Kremlin, though, has denied involvement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Sergei Skripal, who spied for Russia and then Britain, a traitor for selling state secrets.