French police probing Russian rights lawyer in poisoning case

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Paris, Oct.16 : French police are probing whether Russia's leading human rights lawyer was poisoned by a suspicious substance found hidden in her car.

Detectives in the town of Strasbourg were examining whether Karinna Moskalenko, the country's most prominent defender of Kremlin opponents, had been deliberately poisoned.

Moskalenko said on Monday her husband discovered "large" quantities of a mercury-like substance hidden under her car seat.

Moskalenko had been due yesterday to attend the Moscow trial of three men accused of involvement in the murder of the crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, was shot dead two years ago outside her Moscow flat.

Two Chechen brothers, Dzhanrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, have been charged with carrying out surveillance on Politkovskaya.

A former police officer, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, is accused of giving them technical help.

But the trial was overshadowed by Moskalenko's non-appearance. A champion of victims of torture in Chechnya, she represents many of Putin's most high-profile enemies. These include Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch Putin jailed in 2003, and the opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Moskalenko said her husband, a chemist, stumbled across the deadly substance while cleaning the family car. She and her family had been suffering from severe headaches, giddiness and nausea. The illness prevented her from flying back to Russia for yesterday's trial, she said.

"When we got to the car we realized something was not normal. The only solution was to call the French police. The car was always locked; nobody should be able to open it," she told France 24.

"The exact nature of the act is not clear. Was the intention to provoke or to harm us, to poison me? Those who did this clearly intended to keep me unaware of the presence of the substance," The Guardian quoted her, as adding.

Moskalenko and her family spent Tuesday undergoing tests at the Medical Legal Institute in Strasbourg. Officials at the centre declined to give further details. Yesterday Moskalenko's assistant, Valentin Moiseev, told the Guardian that the lawyer was awaiting the results of the toxicology tests.

She was still feeling groggy, he said, adding: "She's feeling pretty sick."

Mercury is an element that occurs naturally. But exposure to high levels can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and nervous system.

ANI

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