Embassy of Switzerland in Tehran

A Series Of Unfortunate Events Haunt Swiss Embassy In Tehran

Thursday, 12/07/2023

A series of mysterious events have impacted the Swiss embassy in Tehran, including a military attaché seriously injured and an employee's deadly fall from a balcony.

Switzerland's foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told Iran International on Wednesday that “the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs [FDFA] confirms three accidents or security incidents which occurred in Iran between May 2021 and September 2023.”

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran cut ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Swiss embassy in Tehran has been consistently relaying diplomatic communications between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

The spokesman added that “based on the facts currently known, the FDFA sees no connection between these incidents,” stating that “The cases are being or have been investigated.”

The most recent "incident” was in September, when a Swiss visa service employee was assaulted in the street on his way to work. He was attacked with a knife and was also shot in the hand. “He was very lucky,” said the diplomat’s entourage. Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed the “incident in which an employee of the Swiss embassy in Tehran suffered an injury to his hand.”

Another unexplained case happened in June, when a Swiss military attaché was found with “moderately serious” injuries in a hotel room in Tehran. According to information from CH Media, the Swiss colonel had significant injuries to his head, both knees as well as his chest and stomach.

A view of the tower where the body of the Swiss embassy's first secretary was found in Tehran, May 4, 2021

In July, a Swiss army spokeswoman told CH Media, “He had a seizure in his hotel room, fell and suffered a head injury. From June 11 to 15, he was treated in a hospital in Tehran then repatriated to Switzerland on the orders of the doctor at the Swiss embassy. He is fine." At the time of the incident, the unnamed military attaché was stationed in Islamabad but apparently “accredited to Iran” and on a business trip.

The most tragic incident took place on the night of May 4, 2021, when a Swiss diplomat fell from the balcony of her apartment located on the 17th floor of a skyscraper in Kamranieh, a northern district of Tehran. Sylvie Brunner's body was discovered at the foot of the tower block by a gardener eight hours later.

The 52-year-old woman was the first secretary at the Swiss embassy and the head of the department that represents American interests in Iran, leading to curious speculations. Suspicions naturally arise when high-profile people or those engaged in sensitive work fall out of a window, as was the case with Egyptian billionaire spy Ashraf Marwan, who fell out of his London apartment in 2007.

“Suicide is not a possibility,” Tehran's emergency services said at the time of Brunner's death. “Specialized police units are in the process of examining” the circumstances around the death of the “52-year-old Swiss citizen employed by the Swiss embassy in Tehran”, the national police said in a brief online statement. 

The Swiss foreign ministry expressed “dismay,” with diplomats saying the affair was “hushed up” internally. "The FDFA confirms that a Swiss employee of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran died in a fatal accident on Tuesday. The FDFA and its head Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis are shocked by the tragic death and express their deepest condolences to the family," read a statement.

Eltschinger also told Iran International that “all Swiss representations abroad have a security concept in place to protect the infrastructure and embassy staff, which is reviewed continuously and adapted as necessary.” “If a security incident nevertheless occurs, the FDFA will initiate the clarifications necessary and, if required, take additional security measures. All employees are also regularly trained and sensitized with regard to security,” he added.

In 2016, US and Canadian embassy staff in the Cuban capital Havana started reporting a cluster of idiopathic symptoms that came to be known as “the Havana syndrome.” A US academic study found brain abnormalities in US diplomats who worked in Cuba, amid accusations that Cuba carried out "sonic attacks." Starting in 2017, an increasing number of individuals, including US intelligence and military personnel along with their families, began reporting similar symptoms in other locations, including China, India, Europe, and Washington DC.

In January 2022, the CIA issued an assessment concluding that the syndrome is not the result of "a sustained global campaign by a hostile power.” Whether the Swiss intelligence community will release a similar statement, clearing Iran as a hospitable host country for its diplomatic mission, remains to be seen.

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