- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — Ukrainian prosecutors yesterday reopened their investigation into charges that Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned after doctors who treated the opposition leader confirmed he had been slipped the toxic chemical dioxin.

Mr. Yushchenko, who returned home to campaign for this month’s presidential-runoff vote, said he didn’t want the poisoning to overshadow the Dec. 26 balloting, but the director of Vienna’s elite Rudolfinerhaus clinic said that a potential criminal case could be involved.

“We are not dealing with simple pimples. We are dealing with a poisoning and the suspicion of third-party involvement,” Dr. Michael Zimpfer said.

Doctors at the elite clinic said it took a newly developed test, conducted by a laboratory in Amsterdam where Mr. Yushchenko’s blood samples had been sent, to determine beyond doubt that it was dioxin poisoning that caused a mystery illness in September that left Mr. Yushchenko disfigured and in pain.

Whoever was responsible may have thought dioxin was untraceable, Dr. Zimpfer said.

“Until recently, there has been no [blood] testing available” for dioxin, he said. “This may be one of the reasons that this kind of poisoning, if it was a criminal act, was chosen.”

Tests showed the toxin was taken orally and was likely slipped into something that Mr. Yushchenko ate or drank.

“This is the first case internationally where the intake has been oral. Usually, it’s inhaled, it’s very different,” Dr. Zimpfer said. The Amsterdam tests found Mr. Yushchenko’s blood contained more than 1,000 times the normal amount of dioxin.

Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office said it had reopened the criminal investigation that it closed in November for lack of evidence of poisoning.

Lawmakers from Mr. Yushchenko’s party said the clinic’s findings confirmed that his opponents wanted to assassinate or disable him rather than take the risk he would defeat Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential election.

Yanukovych campaigners rejected suggestions that the prime minister could have been involved in any poisoning attempt. There is “no logic in such an accusation,” said Taras Chornovyl, Mr. Yanukovych’s campaign manager.

Mr. Yushchenko agreed on the need for an investigation, but said the focus should now be on a new election ordered by the Supreme Court after if ruled that fraud had rendered a Nov. 21 vote invalid.

“I don’t want this factor to influence the election in some way, either as a plus or a minus,” Mr. Yushchenko said as he headed back to Kiev. “This question will require a great deal of time and serious investigation. Let us do it after the election. Today is not the moment.”

While high concentrations of dioxin remain in his blood, doctors said Mr. Yushchenko’s organs have not been damaged and he is fit for the campaign trail.

“He has almost made a complete recovery,” Dr. Zimpfer said. “His liver is fine, his pancreas is fine, but he still has residual pain” and is taking painkillers.

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