Sunday, December 19, 2004

No, we aren't citizens of some backwards little country stuck in the middle of nowhere. No. We have access to Austrian hospitals - both in emergency cases (like when a presidential candidate is poisoned midway through his campaign) and for such mundane reasons as giving birth (like when the president's granddaughter is about to enter this world). And when we need to defend our reputation, all those European PR experts with exotic names (Yffic Nouvellon) come running to us, often willing to risk their own reputation. No, we're totally cool.

A story in the Financial Times on how Kuchma's son-in-law was trying "to find the truth" about Yushchenko's sudden illness, with the help of a "team of public relations experts from EuroRSCG, part of the Paris-based Havas Group"...

Soon after Mr Yushchenko first claimed he had been poisoned, in a speech to parliament on September 21, Mr Kuchma's businessman son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, travelled to Vienna and discussed the claims with doctors at the Rudolfinerhaus clinic. He and his wife - Mr Kuchma's daughter, Elena Franchuk - had established contacts with Vienna's tight-knit medical community when their daughter was born in a different Vienna hospital in June 2003.

A team of public relations experts from EuroRSCG, part of the Paris-based Havas Group, also came to Vienna, headed by Yffic Nouvellon, who had worked with Mr Pinchuk and Ms Franchuk in Kiev.

Mr Nouvellon's team arranged a press conference where Lothar Wicke, the Rudolfinerhaus's general manager, contradicted Mr Yushchenko's poisoning allegations. Mr Nouvellon also contacted international media, including the Financial Times, offering evidence that Mr Yushchenko had not been poisoned.

Mr Nouvellon did not reveal his connection to Mr Pinchuk, and when confronted about it insisted he did not know Mr Pinchuk and that he had never been to Kiev. Michael Zimpfer, the Rudolfinerhaus's president, said he had cut the clinic's contact with Mr Nouvellon's team after Mr Yushchenko had informed him of EuroRSCG's ties to the Kuchma family.

"It was a big mistake to involve a company that was clearly biased to one side," Dr Zimpfer said.

Mr Pinchuk said he and his media businesses, which carried reports casting doubt on the poisoning allegations, "had only one goal, to find the truth. All our investigations at that time showed no trace of poisoning."

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