Russia denies issuing conclusions over Arafat's death

The Russian agency involved in studying the remains of Yasser Arafat (above) on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013, denied issuing any conclusions about the death of the Palestinian leader, after a report cited its chief as saying he could not have died from polo
The Russian agency involved in studying the remains of Yasser Arafat (above) on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013, denied issuing any conclusions about the death of the Palestinian leader, after a report cited its chief as saying he could not have died from polonium poisoning. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - The Russian agency involved in studying the remains of Yasser Arafat on Tuesday denied issuing any conclusions about the death of the Palestinian leader, after a report cited its chief as saying he could not have died from polonium poisoning.

Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA) was one of three international institutes involved in exhuming Arafat's remains in November 2012.

Interfax earlier quoted FMBA head Vladimir Uiba as saying he doubted a report published in The Lancet at the weekend saying that Swiss radiation experts had found traces of polonium on Arafat's clothing.

The Swiss team said its findings "support the possibility" the veteran Palestinian leader, who died in November 2004, was poisoned.

"He could not have been poisoned by polonium," FMBA head Uiba was quoted as saying by Interfax. "The Russian experts who conducted the investigation did not find traces of this substance."

However, the FMBA quickly denied that he had ever issued such a statement to Interfax.

"We have not publicised any official results of our forensic review," a spokesman for the agency told AFP, reading from an official statement.

"Neither have we publicly confirmed nor denied media reports about there being or not being polonium in Arafat's remains."

Pressed to explain the Interfax report, the spokesman said: "There was no statement."

The deputy editor of Interfax's political news section stood by the story, saying FMBA head Uiba made his comments in a sit-down interview.

"The correspondent and I sat down with Uiba for an interview and this is what he said," said the deputy editor, who asked not to be named.

"If the (FMBA) press service later decided to issue that kind of statement, then it will rest on their conscience."

A foreign ministry source said Russia had no right to publicise the forensic review's conclusions because the study was commissioned by the Palestinian leadership.

"Our position on announcing the results of Yasser Arafat's exhumation remains the same: only the Palestinian authorities can release this information," the unnamed source told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

Speculation has surrounded Arafat's death ever since a quick deterioration of his health saw him pass away at a military hospital near Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75.

French doctors were unable to say what killed the Palestinians' first democratically-elected president and an autopsy was never performed, at his widow's request.

But many Palestinians believed he was poisoned by Israel.