RTS (Swiss) TV News - 4 December - 7.30PM
Rush translation starting at 1:50.
Darius Rochebin (Anchor): Yasser Arafat died in Paris on 11 November 2004 aged 75, almost ten years ago, and the mystery persists about the cause. Swiss experts talk about a poisoning theory that can be reasonably supported. French experts by contrast speak of death by natural causes and, I quote, of "old age." Tonight experts from CHUV (University Hospital Center of Vaud) react. Laurent Dufour reports.
Laurent Dufour (reporter): On his [Arafat's] body, French and Swiss scientists found the same thing: polonium levels 18-36 times higher than normal. But for the French experts there is a simple explanation: radon, a radioactive gas present in nature and therefore in the tomb of Yasser Arafat, that can be transformed into polonium. So according to this version it is the environment of the tomb that contaminated the body and the Palestinian leader would have died of natural causes. A theory rejected by the experts in Lausanne.
Francois Bochud, Director Institut de Radiophysique Appliquee, CHUV: If radon was sufficient to explain what we observe, then you would see the same thing in all the soil samples. We found levels of lead and polonium 17 times higher in the soil samples that were taken from just beneath the body compared with this taken from further away.
Dufour: For the professor, if the two sets of experts differ it is because among the scientists sent to Ramallah, only the Swiss team included radiation specialists.
Bochud: The samples were measured by highly competent people at [unclear] in Paris, but at the site there were police officers, a judge, a doctor, a toxicologist but no one who knew anything about radiation. So it is more difficult to select good samples when you don't know anything, than when you are on site with radiation specialists.
Dufour: Two diametrically opposed conclusions and a widow visibly upset.
[Video] Suha Arafat: You can only imagine how devastated I am by these contradictions among the best experts in Europe.
Dufour: But for Francois Bochud the important thing is the levels of polonium, levels that were identical in both reports.
Bochud: So there's no doubt about what we wrote. And I'd even say that the fact we have confirmation of our base measurements from the French laboratory is more than anything an element in favor of the conclusion we rendered a month ago.
Dufour: A prudent conclusion, but one that indeed points toward the poisoning of Yasser Arafat.
[cut to studio]
Anchor: Patrice Mangin, good evening. You are the director of the Romand university centre for legal medicine, and are a key figure in all this. First of all, what do you think of the thesis of generalized infection?
Mangin: I am a bit surprised by this explanation because I remind you that Mr. Arafat was hospitalized for two weeks in Paris where the greatest experts were brought to bear and no cause was established. Notably, the generalized infection hypothesis seems to be the one most easily dismissed - no fever, no infectious [unclear]. All the microbiological tests were negative.
Anchor: The formula 'death of natural causes' seems strange?
Mangin: It appears strange to me because the moment you say "death of natural causes" it means you have a precise diagnosis. Even with all the advanced diagnostics, that seems to me debatable.
Anchor: Given polonium 18-36 times higher than normal, do you understand the interpretation given by the French?
Mangin: No I don't understand because, as was said with regard to the radon theory, of course, we considered it. But we rejected it. We rejected it for reasons that are a bit long to explain but which in any case appear to me to be entirely justified.
Anchor: You went very far, you even bought some polonium to make comparisons.
Mangin: Absolutely. Professor Bochud and his team procured a source of polonium in order to examine how polonium would behave over time.
Anchor: Many open questions, no autopsy.
Mangin: No autopsy, which is stunning.
Anchor: No samples [from the body], even though they were taken it is not known where they are.
Mangin: What's stunning is that samples were taken [from Arafat] for toxicological tests in an institute belonging to the army and even for radio elements and these samples were destroyed.
Anchor: You were telling me earlier you have 30 years of experience. You have autopsied thousands of bodies. You were present when Arafat's body was exhumed. It was in the condition of a skeleton.
Anchor: At that point was it still possible to carry out an investigation?
Mangin: Based on the elements [samples] taken, yes, of course.
Anchor: Is there a risk we'll remain in a situation of historic doubt as for Napolean and arsenic?
Mangin: I think we will remain in doubt, because I remind you that we were very cautious in our conclusions and we put forward hypotheses, not certainty.
Anchor: You said you obtained polonium for your investigations... if it was poisoning isn't it difficult to obtain polonium?
Mangin: Yes you can't buy polonium in a pharmacy. It's true it is difficult to get. It requires authorizations.
Anchor: So it is usual states or authorities...
Mangin: In order to produce polonium, you need to have a reactor, so it is states that control this kind of chemistry and so of course it is difficult.
Anchor: Last word. The Swiss thesis.. there was the word "reasonably." One can "reasonably" support the poisoning theory. You uphold that?
Mangin: Absolutely. All the way.