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The hospital where Alexey Navalny was treated in Omsk. August 20, 2020.

Getting the facts straight Russian police officials release new report on inquiry into Navalny’s hospitalization in Omsk

Source: Meduza
The hospital where Alexey Navalny was treated in Omsk. August 20, 2020.
The hospital where Alexey Navalny was treated in Omsk. August 20, 2020.
Evgeny Sofiychuk / AP / Scanpix / LETA

The Transit Police Department for Russia’s Siberian Federal District has published a new report on the inquiry in connection with opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s hospitalization in Omsk on August 20. In the report, police officials recount details of a “mine scare” at the Omsk Airport that same day, accuse employees from Navalny’s non-profit organization — the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) — of refusing to give testimony, and express doubts that a water bottle from Navalny’s hotel room was actually taken to Germany. “Meduza” breaks down the key points from the police report and recalls what Navalny and his associates have said on these topics.

On the ‘mine scare’ at the Omsk Airport

What the police said

Before Navalny’s plane landed in Omsk, the local airport received a message about a mine being planted there, the police statement says. The warning was sent to Omsk’s Leninsky District Court via email; it referred to mines laid at other key locations (such as district court buildings, a railway station, and banks, according to the police report), as well. Police officials have since launched a criminal case for knowingly falsely reporting a terrorist act. The inquiry revealed that the message was sent through an online mail service, whose servers are located in Germany. 

The police statement says that “internal affairs bodies didn’t disclose information about the mining of the airport,” and claims that this “raises the question” of how “one of the persons involved in the pre-investigation check” knew about it.

“Simply put, where did Mr. Navalny, who was located at the Charité Hospital and, according to reports from there, had only just [regained consciousness], obtain information, which, I repeat, wasn’t available anywhere,” the report says. 

What’s not quite right

Contrary to what the transit police officials claim, reports emerged about the mine scare at the Omsk airport on the same day that Navalny was poisoned (August 20). In particular, this was reported by the Telegram channel Aviaincidents and the Omsk-based news outlet Omsk Airport spokesperson Galina Gavrish then confirmed these reports in response to a request from on August 26. According to her, they received the message about the mine five minutes after the pilot flying Navalny’s plane requested an emergency landing. The airport was evacuated, but this didn’t affect the provisioning of medical assistance for Navalny, Gavrish assured. 

“The Interior Ministry believes that the evacuation of the Omsk Airport, where hundreds of people were [present] at that moment, and which was reported by the media, is secret information inaccessible to anyone,” Navalny commented on the police statement.

On questions for the FBK’s employees

What the police said

The transit police officials claim to have interviewed more than 230 people who came in contact with Navalny during his trip to Siberia. They also add that law enforcement still have many questions for the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s employees, as well as for other people who accompanied Navalny during his trip. In particular, they have questions about what they did in his Tomsk hotel room, why they removed items from it that could serve as physical evidence (including water bottles), and how these items were transported.

“Currently, police officers are trying to clarify information of interest to the employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, but they refuse to give an explanation […] [FBK lawyer] Vladlen Los avoided answering questions about the circumstances of the search of Navalny’s hotel room and the removal of various items from it, as well as the methods [used] for their further transportation. He stated that he doesn’t remember what happened after the manager opened the door to the hotel room,” the statement says. 

What’s not quite right

The head of the FBK’s investigations department, Maria Pevchikh, gave detailed explanations as to why, upon hearing that Navalny had been hospitalized in Omsk, his associates decided to return to his hotel room in Tomsk and take things from the room. According to Pevchik, they (as did Navalny himself) suspected poison immediately and wanted to collect potential evidence. The hotel’s management let them into the room. Once inside, they collected things that Navalny could have touched — including three empty water bottles from the brand, “Holy Spring.” They packed each bottle separately and sent them to Germany on the air ambulance that evacuated Navalny from Omsk to the Charité Hospital in Berlin. According to Navalny’s associates, traces of poison were later found on one of the water bottles from the room.

The transit police also claim that FBK lawyer Vladlen Los refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the search of Navalny’s room. However, police officials stated in previous reports related to the preliminary check that Los had, in fact, been interviewed (That said, this report was published prior to the FBK revealing that they had taken the water bottles from Navalny’s hotel room). 

On the poisoned water bottle

What the police said

According to the police report, Anton Timofeev (a lawyer and former state investigator, who helped the FBK employees in Tomsk, according to Proekt) said that he handed over the items taken from Navalny’s hotel room to Georgy Alburov, who works for the FBK’s investigations department. Along with Maria Pevchikh, Alburnov left Tomsk for Omsk via Novosibirsk (because there were no direct flights, Pevchikh said). During the security inspection at the Novosibirsk airport, Alburnov and Pevchikh didn’t have any bottles bigger than 100 milliliters. But after passing through security, Pevchikh bought a half liter bottle of “Holy Spring” brand water from a vending machine and flew with it to Omsk.

“This is confirmed by the images from the airport’s security camera, which captured the moment [when] Maria Pevchikh acquired the bottle of water, as well as from the X-ray television system at the airport, where Pevchikh and Alburnov went through baggage inspection.

Legal confirmation of the reports about Maria Pevchikh’s official employment at the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which the media spoke about repeatedly, wasn’t found. Communication with this citizen is of great interest to the investigation,” the statement says.

What’s not quite right

Journalists from the BBC Russian Service asked Maria Pevchikh whether the bottles were transported from Tomsk to Omsk in hand luggage or in a checked bag. She replied that the items from Navalny’s room “were strategically packed in different places,” without specifying who had the bottles and where exactly they were kept. As FBK employee Georgy Alburnov mentioned, the Telegram channel Mash reported earlier that Pevchikh probably carried the bottle in a suitcase — Mash also shared an image from a baggage scanner.

As for Maria Pevchikh’s employment with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, this was not only reported by the media, but also mentioned by FBK employees themselves. Georgy Alburnov explained that he has been working with her in the FBK’s investigations department for eight years.

Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart