Iranian police said this week they are investigating the death of a Swiss diplomat. According to reports she died after "falling from a high-rise" in Tehran. She supposedly fell from a 20-story building. News reports say that the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern acknowledged in a statement that an employee "died in a fatal incident on Tuesday."
This has fed a series of rumors, gossip and conspiracies. This was partly due to the fact that the victim was not initially named and because it is unusual for people to fall from such a height. When high-profile people or those involved in sensitive work fall out a window, it is naturally considered suspicious.
For instance, the Egyptian Ashraf Marwan died under mysterious circumstances when he fell out of his London apartment in 2007. The Guardian wondered "who killed the 20th century's greatest spy," because Marwan had been accused of working as a spy and playing a key role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Then there is the case of James Le Mesurier, the British ex-soldier who was a co-founder of the White Helmets, a group that provided aid in Syria but was also accused of being close to Syrian rebels. He died after a fall from a window in an apartment in Istanbul in 2019.
Then there are the cases of "dissident" doctors in Russia who mysteriously fell out of windows in 2020. In 2017 a Moscow lawyer involved in a high profile case fell out of a window of an apartment. Journalists also occasionally mysteriously fall out of windows.
The death of the Swiss diplomat is made more complex because reports say she was the No. 2 at the embassy, and that the embassy plays a key role by representing the US in Iran. This is because the US does not have an operating embassy in Iran. Specialized police have been sent by Iran to investigate. Iran says the woman's body was found by a gardener who "arrived at her apartment early on Tuesday." He noticed she was missing. It wasn't clear if the gardener had entered the apartment or what role a gardener has to garden inside an apartment or notice whether people are missing. Perhaps he was a gardener for the whole building and was not linked to her apartment. Did no one else here a person fall from the building. There was no scream or noise?
Iran International says there are questions. They give the name of the diplomat as Sylvie Brunner and say that a newspaper named Hamshahri has provided a different account. This account says a loud noise "like an explosion" was heard after midnight on Tuesday. This was eight hours before the body was discovered. "Hamshahri said a cleaner discovered the body and immediately informed the building's management. It quoted an expert from the coroner's office confirming death occurred eight hours before the body was discovered."
There were no signs of disorder. The apartment had a guard rail of 110 cm. "Investigators did not find blood or signs of a struggle on the balcony or the railing." But the newspaper does claim to have found details about a note left behind with instructions what to do after the death. "The house-aide is quoted as saying that Brunner had sometimes shown signs of depression but lately had seemed better." Iran International says this contrasts with accounts by emergency services spokesperson Mojtaba Khaledi, who first confirmed the death Tuesday morning.
The new twist in the case doesn't make it more suspicious. Iran expert Jason Brodsky notes that "Brunner, according to her LinkedIn profile, was the deputy head of the foreign interests section at the embassy. An interesting role given Switzerland's representation of US interests there."
Switzerland has played a key international role with Iran in swapping detainees, hostages and prisoners that have been held by the Islamic Republic. The US and Iran have both thanked Switzerland in the past. Swiss diplomats have been praised in 2019 and 2020. Switzerland confirmed its role in freeing US-vet Michael White from Iran last year.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.