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11 Sep, 2020 13:30

Confusion reigns as Navalny associate accused of evading Russian police questioning says investigators never tried to contact her

Confusion reigns as Navalny associate accused of evading Russian police questioning says investigators never tried to contact her

Russian police say they are searching for a woman who was with Alexey Navalny in Tomsk before his alleged poisoning, last month. They claim 'Marina Pevchikh,' who left Russia after refusing to answer police questions.

Investigators said on Friday morning that the woman left for Germany on August 22, when Navalny was taken to Berlin for treatment at the request of his associates.

However, later the same day, Pevchikh herself apparently spoke and insisted that Russian law enforcement officials had not tried to contact her, even though her Russian phone is always on. She added that she was never summoned for interrogations and questioning, nor she did not receive any summons.

The woman also clarified that her name is Maria, not Marina. She was speaking to Meduza, a Western state-funded Russian language news site, based in Latvia.  

Russian investigators are now looking into the events surrounding Navalny’s illness, which quickly left him incapacitated. The police have researched what he did in Tomsk, including who he met, where he stayed, and where he ate. The investigation led authorities to Pevchikh, who they claim previously refused to answer police questions.

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“To date, five out of the six citizens who accompanied Navalny during the trip have been interviewed: Vladlen Los, Georgy Alburov, Ilya Pakhomov, Kira Yarmysh, and Pavel Zelensky,” said the police department’s statement. “Marina Pevchikh, who was with Navalny and permanently resides in Britain, refused to give her side of the story on August 20. According to the investigation, on August 22, she flew to Germany, and therefore it was not possible to question her.”

The police note that the investigation is ongoing, and they are also establishing the whereabouts of passengers who flew on the plane with Navalny.

In response to the incident, officials from NATO and the European Union have demanded that Russia conducts a “full and transparent” investigation. Despite no conclusion yet being reached, some have called for Moscow to be sanctioned over the alleged poisoning, which the Kremlin has called “absurd.”

On Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry lodged a formal protest with Germany’s ambassador, calling suggestions of state involvement “unfounded.”

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that Navalny’s associates are now “slowly beginning to move to Germany,” which, in the context of the country’s accusations against the Kremlin, is “very unpleasant.”

“It is still in the interests of our German colleagues to protect their reputation and provide all the necessary information that would somehow shed light on the so-far unfounded accusations,” Lavrov said.

On August 20, Navalny was taken ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. Following an emergency landing in Omsk, a Siberian city 2,000km east of the capital, he was taken to a local hospital. The opposition figure was flown to Berlin’s Charite clinic two days later, where he is currently being treated. According to German doctors, Navalny was poisoned with a variant of the nerve agent family ‘Novichok’.

(Editors note: This story was updated to include the comments from Maria Pevchikh).

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