Russia says no need for criminal investigation in Navalny case

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was airlifted to Germany from a Siberian hospital. (AP pic)

MOSCOW: Russian prosecutors said on Thursday they saw no need for a criminal investigation into the sudden illness of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who his supporters suspect was poisoned, and they had found no sign that any crime had been committed.

The Interior Ministry said it had started a preliminary investigation into the case, but this was routine.

Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after collapsing during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. He is now in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital.

The hospital said its initial medical examination pointed to poisoning, though Russian doctors who had treated Navalny in a Siberian hospital have contradicted that diagnosis.

On Thursday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office said there was no indication a crime had been committed against him.

It saw no basis to open a criminal investigation, the office said in a statement.

German authorities have agreed to cooperate with Russia on the case, the Prosecutor General’s office said, asking Germany to share information about his treatment and promising to give some back in exchange.

The Siberian branch of the Interior Ministry’s transportation unit said it was carrying out a preliminary investigation after Navalny’s flight made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk.

It had inspected the hotel room where Navalny had been staying in Tomsk and the routes he had taken in the city, as well as analysing video surveillance footage from the area, it said. The ministry did not find any drugs or other potent substances.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated the government’s position that there was no need for a formal investigation but that preliminary checks were always carried out in such situations

Relations with the West

Navalny’s supporters believe he was poisoned by his foes. He has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters.

He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings and rallies and sued over his investigations into corruption. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.

The Kremlin said this week it wanted the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s condition to come to light and that it hoped the incident would not hurt its relations with the West.

Germany, France and other countries have called on Russia to investigate. European Union ministers are set to discuss Navalny’s condition this week.

Russia is already under wide Western sanctions after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine six years ago, and another stand-off with European nations or the US may hurt its economics further.