Vladimir Putin

Sacked Russian Olympic official claims he was poisoned

Russian Winter Games chief blamed by Putin for fiasco says he has raised mercury levels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 4:29am


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A former Olympic official who fled Russia after President Vladimir Putin criticised him for delays and cost overruns before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi claims he has been poisoned.

Akhmed Bilalov, sacked as deputy head of the Russian Olympic Committee in February, said that doctors had discovered raised mercury levels in his blood. He is receiving treatment in Germany.

"They have found elevated levels of mercury in my body," Bilalov told the Interfax news agency, confirming Russian press reports. "I didn't want to announce this before, but now that the press has found out, I'm forced to confirm it."

Bilalov was axed after Putin toured Olympic sites in the southern city of Sochi a year before the launch of the Games.

Amid reports of construction delays and cost overruns, the president singled out Bilalov for a public dressing down over an unfinished ski jump at Roza Khutor, the cost of which had spiralled. Video footage of Putin ridiculing Bilalov quickly went viral.

Bilalov, a native of the republic of Dagestan, was subsequently stripped of his positions, including as head of a state-owned company building ski resorts. He fled the country shortly after.

A criminal case has been opened against Bilalov for allegedly misspending more than 2.8 million roubles (HK$683,000) from the state company, including for travel to London during the 2012 Olympics. Prosecutors are also investigating him for allegedly embezzling 80 million roubles from the company.

The former Olympic official said he believed the source of the mercury was his office in central Moscow. He told Interfax he "began to feel bad in the middle of autumn last year", adding that he felt satisfactory after receiving treatment.

According to an online news portal that saw a copy of Bilalov's medical report, the former official is at a clinic in Baden-Baden. Doctors found four times the normal amount of mercury in his blood.

A source close to Bilalov told Gazeta that other employees at his Moscow office were being tested. "Everyone is in shock," the source said.

Bilalov said: "I don't want to blame anyone or speculate on how the mercury appeared in my Moscow office. I have no idea. Upon returning to Moscow, I plan to approach law enforcement agencies so they can help sort out this situation."