Navalny’s team reveals hotel room search that uncovered water bottle with traces of Novichok-type poison
On Thursday, September 17, Alexey Navalny’s team shared a post on Instagram, explaining that they found the water bottle with traces of the substance used to poison him at the Xander Hotel in Tomsk. The bottle in question became the key piece of evidence that allowed laboratories in several countries to confirm that the opposition figure was poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent. Navalny stayed at the Xander Hotel during a trip he made to Tomsk to film an investigation about local United Russia politicians. On the morning of August 20, he left the hotel for the airport, where he boarded a plane to Moscow — he fell ill while on board the flight and was hospitalized immediately following an emergency landing in Omsk.
The Russian investigative outlet Proekt also published a new report on September 17, reconstructing the sequence of events surrounding Navalny’s poisoning. According to the investigation, after they got the news of Navalny’s emergency hospitalization, his associates took up watch around Room 239 of the Xander Hotel, where he stayed in Tomsk. They were also able to collect potential evidence from the hotel room, Proekt explains. The investigation underscores that the hotel has at least two surveillance cameras that recorded what went on in the hallway outside of Navalny’s room. However, according to Proekt’s sources, law enforcement officials have “seized” the recordings from these cameras.
Proekt’s investigation says it’s most likely that the poison was on the bottle rather than in the water itself. Vladimir Uglev, one of the developers of “Novichok,” told Proekt that ingesting the poison orally would have sent Navalny into convulsions “within a few minutes.” Uglev also told Proekt that based on Navalny’s symptoms, it seems as though he “received about 20 percent of a lethal dose” and that the poison likely got into his system “after his skin made contact with a poisoned surface.” Navalny’s aides told Proekt that he doesn’t remember when exactly he drank from the bottle in question.
Meduza reached out to Maria Pevihikh, who leads the investigative department of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (the FBK). She accompanied Navalny on his trip to Siberia and was with him in Tomsk.
Maria Pevchikh, the head of the FBK’s investigative department, lives in London and is a very private figure (Meduza first published a report about her on September 11, 2020, but we’ve known about Pevchikh’s work with Navalny for several years). After Navalny’s poisoning, Pevchikh’s name appeared in pro-Kremlin media, which propagated claims that she could have been involved in his poisoning. Police officials later stated that Pevchikh had refused to testify in connection with the preliminary inquiry into Navalny’s poisoning and had left the country. However, Meduza’s reporters confirmed that Russian law enforcement agencies never contacted Pevchikh.
Pevchikh confirmed for Meduza that the bottle, which was later tested by European specialists, was definitely taken from the Navalny’s hotel room. Pevchikh was in the room when this piece of evidence was collected, along with Georgy Alburov, another employee from the FBK’s investigative department, and lawyers Vladlen Los and Anton Timofeev. They had stayed in Tomsk to finish the United Russia investigation after Navalny left for Moscow.
Navalny’s team took three empty “Svyatoy Istochnik” brand water bottles, which Navalny drank from, from his hotel room. As it turns out, it wasn’t very difficult for them to collect these pieces of evidence: the Xander Hotel’s administration allowed the FBK employees and the lawyers to enter the room. This took place within an hour after Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, posted the first tweet about Navalny’s poisoning and the plane’s emergency landing in Omsk.
Both the FBK’s employees and the lawyers wore disposable gloves when handling the bottles, which they had on hand due to the coronavirus pandemic. They packed each bottle separately, and labeled and signed the packages. The team searching for evidence also recorded the process on video. The hotel’s administrator, who was standing at the door to the hotel room at the time, told them that hotel property can only be taken out of the room with permission from the police, but clarified that the bottles aren’t considered hotel property.
In addition to the bottles, Navalny’s team took other objects that he could have touched from the hotel room, as well. Everything found in the room was sent to Germany, along with Navalny’s personal items, and handed over to the doctors. Navalny’s team didn’t specify who exactly took these items abroad, nor did they explain how the person in question did it — but they did say that all of the evidence was stored as carefully as possible.
Translation by Eilish Hart