MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that a water bottle found in the hotel room of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who Germany and other western governments say was poisoned with a nerve agent, could have served as evidence in his case but was instead taken out of Russia by his supporters.
Navalny’s team said on Thursday that the water bottle removed from his hotel room in the city of Tomsk last month had been taken to Germany and found to have traces of Novichok nerve agent.
Asked about the finding, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian specialists had been unable to examine the bottle and that Moscow was therefore not able to comment.
“We cannot explain this because, as you know, this bottle — if it did exist — was taken away to Germany or somewhere else. So, something that could have become evidence of a poisoning was unfortunately taken out. This (raises) an additional question: why?” said Peskov.
“There is too much of the absurd in this story to take anyone’s word as fact,” he added.
Russia has said it needs to see more evidence before a formal criminal investigation is opened into the Navalny case and has asked Germany to hand over Navalny’s medical data so it can be reviewed.
Though no criminal case has been opened, Navalny’s assistant Ilya Pakhomov was questioned by Russian police for over five hours, the head of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation in Moscow, Ivan Zhdanov, told Reuters on Friday.
He said Pakhomov’s interrogation was very detailed, with investigators asking questions about Navalny’s trip to Tomsk, in which Pakhomov also took part, down to whether there had been intimate relations between members of the group.
Navalny’s allies have said a proper investigation into the case will show that the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin and Russian security services are responsible for poisoning the politician.
The Kremlin has called the accusation groundless, saying it would make no sense for it to poison Navalny and then allow him to travel for medical treatment in another country where the poison would be detected.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Anton Zverev and Dmitry Antonov; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Catherine Evans, William Maclean)