The Audemars Piguet timepieces, which can cost more than £700,000 apiece, were confiscated in an apparent retaliation against Switzerland’s sanctions over Russia’s war on Ukraine
Russian agents have confiscated luxury Swiss watches worth millions of dollars in Moscow, Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag has reported.
The Audemars Piguet watches were seized from the firm’s premises in Moscow by special agenst from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
According to a Bloomberg report, the Swiss watchmaker halted Russia exports and also stopped its retail business in the country earlier this month.
Let’s take a look at the incident and why Russian agents are seizing Swiss watches amid the ongoing war with Ukraine.
War against watches
According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Russia was the 17th-largest export market for Swiss watches in 2021, accounting for about $278 million of shipments.
Russian authorities, however, cited customs offenses as the reason the Audemars Piguet watches were seized.
According to the newspaper report, Swiss foreign affairs department officials have said the move was “most likely an arbitrary repressive measure in response to the sanctions”.
Audemars Piguet is a nearly 150-year-old, family-owned watchmaker. The brand’s luxury watches typically have an entry cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
Russian retaliation of Swiss sanctions
The seizure of Swiss watches has come weeks after Switzerland abandoned its traditional neutral stance with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and the war that has since ensued.
It is the first time that Switzerland has imposed sanctions on a country when it matched European Union sanctions on Russia, including a ban on the export of luxury goods to the country.
A spokesman for Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Swiss embassy in Moscow provides support to companies in Russia in coordination with other departments and that “in the course of the sanctions and Russian countermeasures, companies are faced with numerous uncertainties and regulatory measures.”
“The embassy is currently maintaining a very intensive exchange” with local Swiss companies in Russia, the spokesman said in an email response to Bloomberg News.
“Individual cases can therefore not be commented on, also to ensure the safety of the employees of these companies.”
After the sanctions, it has proven for many large consumer-based companies to make a full-scale exit from Russia.
Firms including Swiss packaged food giant Nestle SA have thousands of employees and sensitive production facilities that risk seizure and recrimination by Russia if they were to leave, Bloomberg noted.
Luxury exports to Russia, including watches, cars and high-end alcohol are also on the ban list of the US and some of the European nations.
The White House has estimated these exports to amount to $550 million a year.