Ukraine reopens probe into poisoning

Tests showed candidate likely ingested dioxin

December 13, 2004|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KIEV, Ukraine - The Ukrainian prosecutor-general's office announced yesterday that it had reopened an investigation into allegations that presidential candidate Viktor A. Yushchenko was poisoned, after doctors in Austria confirmed he had ingested dioxin.

Returning to Kiev after checking out of a clinic in Vienna, Austria, Yushchenko said he was sure that authorities were responsible for the dioxin poisoning that had disfigured his face and caused other symptoms.

"I am convinced that this is the work of the authorities, absolutely convinced," Yushchenko told reporters at a Kiev airport.

The pro-Western reformer is engaged in a bitter presidential contest with Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych and has alleged since suddenly falling ill in September that he was poisoned in an assassination attempt. Authorities have denied the charge, and some pro-government politicians have ridiculed it.

Yushchenko fell sick Sept. 6, a day after having late-night food and drinks with Ihor Smeshko, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, and others.

The prosecutor-general's office dropped its initial investigation of the allegation in late October. Serhiy Rudenko, a spokesman, said then that no poisoning agents had been found in forensic medical tests and that there was no data to prove deliberate poisoning or the use of biological weapons against Yushchenko.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at the private Rudolfinerhaus clinic in Vienna, where doctors announced Saturday that they had confirmed dioxin poisoning, Yushchenko said a full-scale investigation should wait until after Dec. 26, when he faces Yanukovych in a repeat election.

The Supreme Court set the revote after ruling that the Nov. 21 balloting, narrowly won by Yanukovych according to the official count, was invalid because of fraud.

"I don't want this factor to influence the election in some way - either as a plus or a minus," Yushchenko said. "This question will require a great deal of time and serious investigation. Let us do it after the election. Today is not the moment."

Yushchenko said large street protests in central Kiev's Independence Square, which helped prompt parliament to enact electoral reforms aimed at preventing fraud in the revote, had brought historic change to Ukraine.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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