07/08/2015 - London: Expert Witness Points to Toxic Poison In The Death Of Russian Whistleblower

A pre-inquest hearing told Alexander Perepilichnyy, who died outside UK home after warning of Kremlin death threats, found to have traces linked to gelsemium.

A Russian whistleblower who collapsed and died outside his home in Surrey after warning of death threats from the Kremlin had traces of a rare plant poison in his stomach, a pre-inquest hearing has heard.

An expert in plant toxicology found traces linked to an extremely poisonous species of gelsemium in the stomach of Alexander Perepilichnyy, the hearing heard, potentially contradicting police assurances that his death in 2012 was not suspicious. He died aged 44, having previously been healthy.

The case had nagging similarities of the suspected murder in London of another exiled Russian, Alexander Litvinenko, Perepilichnyy had continuously warned his life was at risk from forces linked to the Kremlin after he provided details of alleged fraud involving Russian tax officials in which about $230m (147m GBP) was stolen.

The stolen money allegedly came from taxes paid by Hermitage Capital, a hedge fund run by a US-born financier, Bill Browder, now a major critic of Vladimir Putin's rule. Browder said his firm repeatedly warned Surrey police that Perepilichnyy’s death was probably suspicious.Browder claims that toxicology tests were not carried out for three weeks by Surrey police. They found nothing suspicious and handed the case over to the coroner. Bowder claims that Surrey poice failed to do their job properly even with the knowledge of the background to the case.Hermitage Capital has already written to the coroner detailing Browder's concerns about the case. The 17-page letter explains that the company, which at one point was the largest
international investment fund in Russia, was the victim of the massive alleged fraud. Browder's lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested in 2009 and died in police custody.

The letter says Perepilichnyy, who had previously been involved in managing the stolen money, turned whistleblower in 2010 after fleeing to the UK. He passed Hermitage documents allegedly showing what had happened in the fraud, helping Swiss prosecutors freeze a large amount of the cash.

Perepilichnyy was expected to be a key witness in a subsequent Swiss court case, the letter says, but began to receive death threats, prompting him to take out life insurance.

The policy involved him having medical tests, which revealed no health problems. But on 10 November 2012, he collapsed and died outside his home in Weybridge.

Browder said, He said: 'I have no confidence in the police’s conduct, or in their subsequent investigation. What I’m hoping for is that the coroner, who is in effect an independent body, can use his powers to find the truth in this story. 'The full inquest was scheduled to begin at Surrey coroner's court on Monday, but it was suddenly delayed after receiving the results of the new tests, believed to have been carried out by
Prof Monique Simmonds, a plant expert at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, south-west London.

The hour-long hearing before the Surrey coroner, Richard Travers, heard that she had found ions associated with the poison in Perepilichnyy's stomach. The traces were very rare and could only come from one of five sources, all linked to varieties of the gelsemium plant – the most toxic of which,
Gelsemium Elegans, only grows in Asia.