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Berlin hospital says Kremlin critic Navalny's test results 'indicate poisoning'

An ambulance that allegedly transported Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen at Charité Mitte Hospital Complex where he could receive medical treatment in Berlin, Germany, August 22, 2020.
An ambulance that allegedly transported Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen at Charité Mitte Hospital Complex where he could receive medical treatment in Berlin, Germany, August 22, 2020. © Christian Mang, REUTERS
9 min

The Berlin hospital treating leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said on Monday that test results indicated he had been poisoned, contradicting the findings of Russian doctors.

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Hours later, Germany and the European Union called on Russian authorities to launch an "independent and transparent investigation’, as a Russian doctor in the team that treated Navalny said they did not detect the toxin cited by the Charité hospital.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner was brought to the German capital on Saturday after falling ill in Siberia last week with what Russian doctors blamed on a metabolic disorder.

"Clinical findings indicate poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors," the renowned Charité hospital in Berlin said on Twitter.

Cholinesterase is an enzyme that is needed for the central nervous system to function properly.

"Alexei Navalny's prognosis remains unclear; the possibility of long-term effects, particularly those affecting the nervous system, cannot be excluded," the hospital added. 

"Our assertions have now been confirmed by independent laboratory analyses," Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter. "Alexei's poisoning is no longer a hypothesis but a fact."

Germany and EU call on ‘independent and transparent investigation’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert had told reporters earlier it was "fairly likely" Navalny had been poisoned.

"In view of Mr Navalny's prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, the authorities there are now urgently called upon to investigate this act thoroughly – and to do so with full transparency," Merkel said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. "Those responsible must be identified and held accountable."

Hours later, the European Union's diplomatic chief Josep Borrell on Monday also called on the Russian authorities to launch an "independent and transparent investigation" on “what seems to be an attempt on Mr Navalny's life". 

Russia's most prominent opposition figure was rushed into intensive care in Siberia on Thursday after his plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk. 

His supporters have said they believe he was poisoned by something in his cup of tea at the airport before he took off, pointing the finger of blame at President Vladimir Putin.

Berlin hospital says Kremlin critic Navalny's test results 'indicate poisoning'
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But Alexandre Sabayev, the chief toxicologist at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, told Russian agencies that they had tested Navalny for "a broad range of narcotics, synthetic, psychodetic and medicinal substances including cholinesterase inhibitors. The results were negative."

The Omsk regional health ministry had previously said that caffeine and alcohol were found in Navalny's urine, but "no convulsive or synthetic poisons were detected".

'Play for time'

Navalny was flown to Berlin on a medical plane chartered by German NGO Cinema for Peace, an initiative financed by private donations.

The transfer came after Merkel extended an offer of treatment in Germany, saying news of Navalny's condition had "truly upset me".

The Charité doctors have pledged to carry out an "extensive medical diagnosis".

Doctors treating him in Omsk initially refused to let Navalny leave but had a change of heart after his family and staff demanded he be allowed to travel to Germany.

Yarmysh claimed Russia's refusal to evacuate him was a ploy to "play for time" and make it impossible to trace poison.

At a press conference on Monday, doctors in Omsk denied they were pressured by officials while treating Navalny.

"There was no influence on the treatment of the patient a priori and there couldn't have been any," said Alexander Murakhovsky, the chief doctor at the Omsk emergency hospital No 1.

'Many facts missing'

Jaka Bizilj, head of Cinema for Peace, told Germany's Bild newspaper he believed Navalny would survive but "the crucial question is whether he will survive this unscathed and continue to play his role".

In any case, he would certainly be out of action politically "for at least one or two months", Bizilj said, meaning he would miss key regional elections next month. 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday that "more clarification is needed" on Navalny's condition.

"There are still many facts missing, of a medical but also criminological nature, which we must wait for," he said during a visit to Ukraine.

Navalny is the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics who have fallen seriously ill or died in apparent poisonings, some by nerve agents.

He lost consciousness shortly after his plane took off on Thursday from Tomsk in Siberia, where he was working to support opposition candidates ahead of next month's elections.

Yarmysh said he had seemed "absolutely fine" before boarding the flight and had neither drunk alcohol nor taken any medication.

She said she was sure he had suffered from an "intentional poisoning" and blamed Putin.

Navalny has made many enemies with his anti-corruption investigations, which often reveal the lavish lifestyles of Russia's elite and attract millions of views online.

The director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation that Navalny founded, Ivan Zhdanov, confirmed on social media that the organisation was continuing its work. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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