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U.K. Judge Rules Spy Evidence On Dead Russian Businessman Should Stay Secret

The Surrey estate where Russian tycoon Aleksandr Perepilichny collapsed in November 2012. (file photo)
The Surrey estate where Russian tycoon Aleksandr Perepilichny collapsed in November 2012. (file photo)

Material about possible links between British spy agencies and a Russian businessman who died in mysterious circumstances in Britain nearly six years ago will remain secret, a judge has ruled.

Nicholas Hilliard, who is leading the inquest into Aleksandr Perepilichny’s death, said in a ruling on September 18 that the material is "marginal" to resolving the question of how the businessman died.

The judge said he was "mindful" of heightened concern about the case following the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March.

But he agreed with Home Secretary Sajid Javid that publicly releasing documents from British spy agencies MI5 and MI6 relating to Perepilichny would lead to "a real risk of serious harm to national security."

Perepilichny collapsed while out jogging near his home south of London in November 2012.

Police initially said the 44-year-old died of natural causes, but the ongoing inquest is considering whether he might have been murdered. Closing submissions in the inquest were expected on September 21.

Two years after his death, Perepilichny's life insurance company ordered tests that detected a toxin in his stomach from a Chinese plant called gelsemium, which can trigger cardiac arrest.

'Very Powerful Evidence'

A scientist from Britain’s botanical Kew Gardens in April said she found no plant toxins in the stomach but that there were some material that were not identified.

Lawyers for Perepilichny's insurer have asked to see any evidence about possible links between the businessman and the British intelligence agencies, saying it would be "very powerful evidence indeed" that he might have been in particular danger.

Perepilichny, a Russian tycoon and Kremlin critic who sought refuge in Britain in 2009, had been helping a Swiss investigation into a massive Russian money-laundering scheme. He also provided evidence against Russian officials linked to the 2009 death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison.

Earlier this month, the British government said police had completed a review of the Perepilichny case and 13 other deaths linked to Russia in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack.

It concluded there was no need to reopen any investigation.

Britain blames the Russian government for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the nerve agent Novichok, and has charged two Russian men in absentia with attempted murder.

The Skripals have recovered from the attack, but a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died in June and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.

With reporting by AP and BBC
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