By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - A scientist on Tuesday told an British inquest that no plant toxins had been found in the stomach of a Russian mafia whistleblower who died suddenly in 2012, challenging earlier evidence that a deadly plant poison had been found.
Alexander Perepilichny, 44, was found dead near his luxury home on the exclusive gated St George's Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey, southwest of London, after he had been out jogging in November 2012.
The sudden nature of the death of Perepilichny, who had sought refuge in Britain in 2009, and his role in helping a Swiss investigation into a Russian money-laundering scheme raised suggestions that he might have been murdered.
As the inquest resumed on Tuesday after a lengthy delay, Monique Simmonds, a scientist from the botanical Kew Gardens, was asked to confirm she had not identified any plant toxins in the samples she had tested. "That's right," she said.
However she said some material that was found in Perepilichny's stomach had not been identified, and that the small amount of material used to conduct a DNA test had been used up.
Bob Moxon Browne, the lawyer for Legal & General, with whom Perepilichny had taken out a large life insurance policy, told a pre-inquest hearing last year that police had flushed away contents of Perepilichny's stomach and retrieved a small amount.
Simmonds on Tuesday said she did her test without knowing that other material had been disposed of. An earlier pre-inquest hearing had been told traces of a rare and deadly poison from the gelsemium plant had been found in his stomach.
The inquest resumed on Tuesday having been adjourned since last June. No reason was given for the delay.
It resumes at as relations between Britain and Russia hit a post-Cold War low over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal last month. Prime Minister Theresa May has said Russia behind the killing though Russia has denied any involvement.
In the Perepilichny case, however, British police said there was no evidence of foul play.
The inquest was told that Perepilichny had been involved in litigation with a company called Dzhirsa, which was set up by Dmitry Kovtun, one of the two men who Britain says was responsible for killing Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Kovtun has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Litvinenko murder.
Dzhirsa was suing Perepilichny over a 3 million dollar loan, and a collection of at least three cases about alleged guarantees, worth around 3 million pounds.
A verdict finding in Perepilichny's favor was given by a Russian court a month before he was found dead, Moxon Browne said.
Perepilichny's widow has said she did not believe her husband had been murdered, and on Tuesday the court heard written testimony from other family members who said that he had not expressed fear for his life.
The inquest continues on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, writing by Estelle Shirbon and Alistair Smout; editing by Kate Holton/Guy Faulconbridge)