Evidence supports Arafat poisoning theory, wider probe needed: experts

LAUSANNE, Switzerland Thu Nov 7, 2013 6:02pm EST

1 of 4. Director of Lausanne University Hospital's forenics centre Patrice Magnin (R) and Director of its Institute of Radiation Physics Francois Bochud (C) speak during a news conference in Lausanne November 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The remains of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat showed test results consistent with polonium poisoning and should lead to a judicial investigation even if they were not absolute proof that he died that way, Swiss experts said on Thursday.

The two forensic experts were part of an international team that opened Arafat's grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November and took samples from his body to see if there was evidence he was poisoned with the radioactive element. Their report was released on Wednesday.

"Our observations are coherent with a hypothesis of poisoning, in any case more consistent than with the opposite hypothesis (of no poisoning)," Patrice Mangin, director of Lausanne University Hospital's center of legal medicine, told a news conference.

Doubts remained, although they had exhausted all forensic investigations into existing specimens, he said. Biological samples taken from Arafat's body at the time of his death in a hospital in France in November 2004 have been destroyed.

"The doubt is enough to induce more investigation, but at a judicial level, to open an inquiry to look at other kinds of evidence, not measurements, but contacts between Palestinians and other people," Mangin told Reuters in an interview.

"From my point of view, the evidence is more in the country where President Arafat was living," he added.

Francois Bochud, director of the university's Institute of Radiation Physics, said the evidence was not conclusive.

"Can we say with certitude that polonium was the cause of death of President Arafat? Unfortunately for those of you who want a clearly-defined answer, the answer is no. That is to say, our study did not permit us to demonstrate categorically the hypothesis of poisoning by polonium."

Bochud told Reuters: "We cannot tell how much polonium actually was ingested, only that our observations are compatible with the poisoning hypothesis."

Arafat died in a French hospital in Nov 2004, four weeks after falling ill after a meal with vomiting and stomach pains.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.

His widow Suha initiated Swiss testing on his personal effects in 2012 to probe whether he had been poisoned and the results lead to analyses on samples taken from his corpse, including bones, hair and his shroud.


The technical report of 108 pages was handed over on Tuesday at a secret meeting in a Geneva hotel to representatives of Suha and the Palestinian Authority, who commissioned the report and split the costs equally.

It opened "the gates of hell", one insider told Reuters.

The report was posted in full on the website of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera's television news channel. link.reuters.com/zuk54v

There are few known cases of polonium poisoning, the most famous recent example being that of defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who drank a poisoned cup of tea in a London hotel in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

Bochud said a few micrograms of polonium would be enough to kill somebody.

"For example, it could be put in a drink, or food would be a possibility, 5 micrograms is almost nothing at all," he said.

"What we know about the timelag between ingestion of radioactive poisoning and death is that usually it lasts around one month. This is commonly observed in radiation poisoning and this is actually also the case that we observed with Mr. Arafat," Bochud said.

Arafat's widow Suha told Reuters in Paris on Wednesday: "We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination."

"It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed."

She told Reuters the polonium must have been administered by someone "in his close circle" because experts had told her the poison would have been put in his coffee, tea or water.

She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies, although she noted that Israel had branded him an obstacle to peace. Israel denied any involvement in his death.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

No autopsy was carried out on Arafat, whose official cause of death was a stroke. The Swiss report said that blood, urine, faecal and cerebrospinal samples taken during his hospitalization in France were "subsequently destroyed".

"Certainly if we had access to biological samples taken from Mr. Arafat in Paris (at the time of his death), if they had been preserved, we might have been more categorical," Bochud said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (4)
unreason wrote:
“He could not have been poisoned with polonium. The research conducted by Russian experts found no traces of this substance.” Reported by Reuters 15 October

So Russians forensic experts processing the samples found no evidence of polonium poisoning and (as I read it, though it is written in a seemingly intentionally misleading way) a private Swiss forensic group hired by the people alleging poisoning found evidence consistent with a hypothesis of polonium poisoning but were unable to definitively say that he was poisoned, much less whether that was a factor in his death. Yet they somehow concluded that his death could not have been of natural causes as the French determined.

Nov 07, 2013 5:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
WhyMeLord wrote:
And just what on earth would you do with that kind of information?
What if it were made known that someone in Israel had him killed?
Is the world prepared to take on the task of prosecuting Istael?
In my opinion, the best thing that would come out of this is nada.
Best let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with making peace not wars.

Nov 07, 2013 7:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
The problem is that Polonium-210 has a half-life of only 138 days; so there were at least 20 half-life cycles between Arafat’s death in Nov 2004 and the detection of radiation in some of his clothes, which means that he would have been more than a Million times more radioactive on the day he died than his clothes in July 2012 (2 raised to the 20th power); theorizing he was contaminated a year before his death makes that several Million times more radioactive. In other words, for this to have happened, for the last year of his life Arafat would have glowed in the dark. And although his clothes were contaminated, nobody else cooped up in the same house suffered any ill-effects.
More likely is that his clothes were (after his death) used to wrap or conceal a Polonium container, perhaps the ingredient to a project for a dirty bomb (and then, to fool the Swiss experts, his grave was secretly opened and salted).

Nov 07, 2013 7:45pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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