The Palestinian National Authority and Yasser Arafat’s widow paid for the Swiss medical investigations that claimed the late Palestinian leader could have been poisoned with polonium, contradicting claims from Al Jazeera that the tests were conducted "pro bono."
A report issued this week by Swiss investigators found unusual levels of polonium-210 in samples taken from Arafat’s body, and said this was enough evidence to "moderately support" the theory that he was poisoned. A previous study conducted in 2012 by the same team also found abnormal traces of the radioactive substance on belongings and clothing worn by Arafat shortly before his death.
Both medical reports were obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, which has worked closely with the investigators at the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne (CURML) and helped Suha Arafat commission the 2012 report.
Al Jazeera told BuzzFeed on Thursday that it believed the Swiss lab conducted the tests for free as a public service.
But a spokesperson for the lab told the Washington Free Beacon that the Palestinian Authority and Suha Arafat paid for both investigations.
"It was commissioned by Mrs. Arafat and at the same time the Palestinian National Authority." CURML’s Darcy Christen said. "In this [latest report], it was invoiced to the Palestinian National Authority, because the first report was invoiced to Mrs. Arafat."
Christen declined to say how much was paid for the projects, but said both were similarly priced.
Clayton Swisher, the Al Jazeera investigative reporter who first contacted the CURML to help Mrs. Arafat commission the report, told the Free Beacon on Thursday that the Swiss investigators "ate" the costs, suggesting it was conducted pro bono. When asked if Suha Arafat paid for the tests, Swisher said "not to my knowledge."
Swisher reported the 2012 Al Jazeera investigation "What Killed Arafat?" a documentary based on the initial Swiss lab investigation of Arafat’s clothing and belongings.
Suha Arafat gave Swisher a duffel bag of Arafat’s belongings in 2012. He then traveled to Switzerland to give them to the CURML scientists.
Christen said the lab did not allow Swisher to commission the investigation himself and it was commissioned through Suha Arafat.
Arafat, who was 75 at the time of his death and led an unhealthy lifestyle, is widely believed to have died from illness or natural causes. But some of his supporters claim the Israeli government assassinated him.
Another report released by a team of Russian scientists on Friday said there was insufficient evidence of polonium poisoning, clashing with the Swiss study that found enough evidence to "moderately support" the poisoning theory.
"The outcome of the comprehensive report on the levels of Polonium-210 and the development of his illness does not give sufficient evidence to support the decision that Polonium-210 caused acute radiation syndrome leading to death," said Dr. Abdullah Bashir, according to Reuters.
Al Jazeera panned the Russian report, quoting an anonymous source who called it "an inferior study" and claimed the Russian Foreign Ministry instructed the research team to downplay the results.
Christen said the CURML could not immediately comment on the Russian study, and said the reports likely used different methodology.
A spokesperson for Al Jazeera did not respond to questions about whether it was aware the Palestinian Authority and Suha Arafat had paid for the Swiss lab reports.