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by John Helmer, Moscow 

A ruling by the Administrative Court of Appeal in Stockholm last week to keep the biochemical contents of Alexei Navalny’s blood secret has created new evidence for Russian prosecutors in Moscow that Navalny has actively collaborated with foreign governments to fabricate the  allegation that President Vladimir Putin attempted to kill him with a Novichok nerve agent.

Responding to a request by Mats Nilsson, a Stockholm lawyer, the appeal court ruled that a multi-page report on Navalny’s blood sampling and testing by the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) and communications interpreting Navalny’s blood contents between Swedish analysts, the German Defence Ministry,  and other NATO officials, are state secrets. They cannot be released publicly, the court wrote Nilsson on January 14, because declassification and publication “will damage Sweden’s relationships with a foreign power”.

The Stockholm appeal court did not identify the foreign power; it is clear from a public statement by the Swedish laboratory official in charge of the testing, Åsa Scott, that it is definitely not Russia.  Scott is head of FOI’s department for Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) protection and security.  

The Stockholm court also rejected Nilsson’s request for release of all Scott’s emails between August 20, the date of Navalny’s collapse on a flight between Tomsk and Moscow, and September 15.

On September 15, Scott issued a press release announcing:  “FOI confirms German results on Novichok”. According to Scott, “I can confirm that we at FOI in Umeå have conducted an analysis on behalf of our German partners. Our analysis confirms the earlier German results. The blood sample from Mr. Navalny did unequivocally contain a nerve agent from the Novichok group.”

What the Swedish government officials did not anticipate at the time was that on December 22, a group of German doctors who had been treating Navalny at the Charité hospital in Berlin, would release their own biochemical analysis of Navalny’s blood, tested by the Germans on September 5; that was the same day the Swedes have reported taking their blood samples from Navalny in Berlin. The German testing, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, on December 22,  revealed that Navalny’s blood on September 5 showed a level of butyryl cholinesterase so close to normal  it would have been impossible for the Swedish laboratory to substantiate Scott’s press announcement.

The Swedish secret,  which last week’s Stockholm court ruling has attempted to make lawful,   is that there was insufficient evidence of Novichok as the cause of the cholinesterase inhibition effect which Navalny has called a Kremlin assassination attempt.

Independent toxicology and biochemistry experts believe the comparison of Navalny’s blood testing by the Germans on September 5 and by the Swedes on the same day proves there was no discoverable trace of Novichok in his blood that day. They also believe that by the time the Swedes began their analysis of the blood, there would also have been no trace of the lithium, benzodiazepamines and other drugs in Navalny’s blood, which, two weeks earlier,  may have caused the sharp drop in his cholinesterase scores and triggered his collapse.

The Swedish black-out is of a black hole — the state secret is that the Swedish laboratory found  no evidence of Novichok.  

But now, for Navalny to continue making his allegation is exposed by the Swedish court judgement to show he is providing “assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation”. This is the wording in the Russian Criminal Code Article 275 for the crime of treason.  If convicted, Navalny faces a prison term of 12 to 20 years.

Nilsson published the initial declassified documents from FOI on his Twitter account on October 9. The first document was a hand-written request by Ernst-Christoph Meier, a German Defence Ministry official, to Jens Mattsson, head of the FOI in Stockholm. Meier told Mattsson the German Army Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology had analysed Navalny’s evidence and that “a nerve agent from the so-called ‘Novichok Group’ could be determined as the source of this poisoning”.

This was so far from a scientific or forensic certainty, Meier told Mattsson “the German Ministry of Defence kindly requests scientific support from the Swedish Defence Research Agency [FOI] in order to have another OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] laboratory validating our findings.” When the FOI issued its press release eleven days later, Scott said what the German Defence Ministry had asked for: “Our analysis confirms the earlier German results.”

The second document released on Nilsson’s request was a heavily redacted page of the FOI report. The covering letter from FOI, signed by Eva Liljefors, chief legal officer of the government defence agency, said the full report of four pages would not be released. “Disclosure of the current results,” according to Liljefors, “could damage relations with another state and could also involve breaches of the OPCW and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for which reason the information is deemed to be protected by secrecy in accordance with OSL [Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act] Chapter 15 Section 1, second paragraph.”

Liljefors also claimed “the results could also damage the country’s defense or endanger the kingdom’s security.”

Left: Jens Mattsson, head of the Swedish Defence Research Agency; right, Åsa Scott, head of the CBRN division of the agency. These Swedish government officials are responsible for claiming that in Navalny’s blood samples of September 5, 2020, they had found “unequivocal” evidence of “a nerve agent from the Novichok group.”  

Reviewing the partial release of what the FOI laboratory had done, and what Scott had claimed the results meant, a leading British toxicologist said at the time: “The page is all basic sample prep and getting the instrumentation ready for analysis. All routine stuff with a blood sample being prepared for a Liquid Chromatograph. However, there is not enough space in that page to discuss or present results data.”   He expressed skepticism that the Swedish laboratory results, if fully disclosed, would substantiate what Scott had claimed in her press release.

“The [press] statement from Dr Åsa Scott is pure fantasy. LC-MS/MS is a very common technique, but it cannot do the job that Dr.Scott claims. It can certainly be used to determine amino acids. However, knowing what amino acids or their ratios were measured in Navalny’s blood does not assist chemical identification. Blood concentration of amino acids is a common technique; for example, amino acids and four ratios — glutamate/citrulline, citrulline/phenylalanine, leucine plus isoleucine/phenylalanine, and arginine/phenylalanine — are an analysis performed for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. But these ratios and the individual concentrations cannot lead to the identification of a specific chemical which has caused the change in concentration. It’s just not possible.”

“There is no doubt that Navalny had depressed Acetylcholine Esterase levels. Dr Scott claims that by looking at amino acids, the presence of, the absence of, the ratios,  etc., ‘we can identify the compound that has caused this’. This also means that these amino acids and the ratios are the only results which the Swedish laboratory obtained from Navalny. Scott for the Swedes, and no doubt the French and the Germans too, are revealing that they are basing their interpretation of the results on the idea that the biomarkers they found can tell us that the causative chemical was Novichok. This is nonsense.” For more detailed analysis, read this.

Nilsson applied to the Administrative Court of Appeal in Stockholm, challenging this legal claim and requesting the full report, plus Scott’s emails on the issue. The case was assigned a new file number 6552-20. There was no hearing or legal argument in court. Instead, on January 14, the court agreed to the release of two of Scott’s emails with one of her colleagues, and reiterated the refusal to disclose the full test results of Navalny’s September 5 blood. The two emails Nilsson has published on his Twitter account have nothing to do with the Navalny case.

ABOVE:  Left: Liljefors’ letter justifying the limited release of the FOI report. Right, page 2 of the report in its redacted form. For a readable version of the Liljefors letter, click to open. For the report, read this.  
BELOW: left, the German Defence Ministry letter to the FOI, September 4, 2020. Right, the two emails by Scott of FOI  just released following Nilsson’s court application.  The Russian prosecutors investigating whether there is evidence of a crime against Navalny have repeatedly requested the test results Meier mentioned to Mattsson from the Germany Army laboratory. This request has been refused. For details, read this.  

When Liljefors was telling Nilsson in September the FOI’s test results for cholinesterase in Navalny’s blood were so secret their public release would threaten Germany, Sweden’s defence and security, and Sweden’s obligations to the OPCW,  she was not expecting the Berlin doctors to reveal Navalny’s blood contents for September 5, as well as on every other day  Navalny was tested at Charité hospital in Berlin.

Here is the cholinesterase level in Navalny’s blood, as measured by the Berlin doctors from August 22 (Day 3 on the chart) through September 5 (Day 16) to his final blood test on October 1 (Day 42).  The butyryl cholinesterase can be followed on row 7. On September 5, Day 16, Navalny’s score was 4.88 kilounits per litre (kU/L). The normal range, shown as the left of the table, starts at 5.32.

Appendix S4 (partial). The butyryl cholinesterase scores are shown on row 7.  For readable image, DwB-2479Z-LINK.pdf - Google Drive .  On September 5, according to this chart, Navalny’s butyryl cholinesterase level was 4.88. The normal range starts at 5.32, according to the Appendix S1.

This chart, also released by the Berlin doctors, shows that the “inhibitory activity” of the lowered cholinesterase level was approaching zero when the Swedish testing was undertaken:

Appendix S3: https://drive.google.com/

Navalny gave his permission to the Swedish Defence Research Agency to sample and test his blood. He also gave his permission to the Charité doctors led by Kai-Uwe Eckardt to publish their test results, along with their analysis.

The German data, however, do not substantiate his allegation of a Russian assassination attempt nor the Swedish government’s endorsement. The data reveal that the lowering of Navalny’s blood cholinesterase level may have been triggered by Navalny’s combination of alcohol, lithium, and benzodiazepamine drugs which have also been reported in the German medical papers. For details of this analysis, read this.  

Independent experts now say that by September 5, the 16th day after Navalny had consumed his alcohol and drug cocktail in Tomsk, there would have been no measure in his blood of either the alcohol or the other drugs. Published research indicates that the traces of diazepam and nordazepam, which were confirmed in Navalny’s blood in Berlin on August 22, would have disappeared within 10 days. The traces of oxazepam and temazepam would have lasted for no more than five days.  The lithium which Navalny took himself on the evening of August 19 or early morning of August 20 would have begun disappearing from his bloodstream at a rate of 50% of the initial dose every 24 hours; there would have been no trace by September 5.

 In other words, the Swedish testing was too late to identify the metabolic factors contributing to Navalny’s collapse he caused himself.  His cholinesterase level on September 5 was also so close to normal, the experts do not believe FOI’s testing is likely to have found the cause of the cholinesterase inhibitor at the time of his collapse.

With the hindsight now provided by the Berlin doctors’ testing of September 5, the conclusion is that Navalny’s blood on that day would not have revealed any cause of cholinesterase inhibition – neither the drugs he had consumed himself, nor the Novichok which Navalny alleges was applied to his skin through his underpants. The hindsight also corroborates the conclusion last October by the British toxicologist — the tests which Scott claims her laboratory used on Navalny’s blood could not have led “to the identification of a specific chemical which has caused the change in concentration. It’s just not possible.”

By blacking out the Swedish results of page 3 and 4 of the FOI report, on the ground confirmed  last week by the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal, the Swedish government is protecting the Novichok fabrication announced by Scott on behalf of the Swedish Defence Research Agency and the German Defence Ministry.  

The court ruling allows a state secret to conceal a state lie – Navalny’s also. This outcome  carefully documented by the Swedish government is unanticipated evidence of Navalny’s collaboration with the two foreign governments to support his Novichok assassination allegation. As Navalny waits on remand in prison in Moscow, this evidence is being assembled for the entirely new criminal case against him.

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