Russian-Canadian Pussy Riot activist believes Russian secret service poisoned him

Anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov, recovering in Berlin after suddenly losing his sight, hearing and ability to walk, has told a newspaper he believes he was poisoned by Russia's secret service.

Pyotr Verzilov says attack may have been prompted by investigation of journalists' deaths in Africa

Pyotr Verzilov, centre, walks with police outside a courthouse in Moscow on July 31. Verzilov and three other Pussy Riot members spent 15 days in jail in Russia for running onto the field during the 2018 World Cup final. He said Tuesday he's recovering after two weeks in intensive care for a suspected poisoning. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov, recovering in Berlin after suddenly losing his sight, hearing and ability to walk, has told a newspaper he believes he was poisoned by Russia's secret service.

Verzilov, publisher of a Russian online news portal with close ties to punk protest group Pussy Riot, fell ill two weeks ago in Moscow and was flown to Germany for urgent treatment.

Doctors at Berlin's Charite hospital have found no traces of poison in his body, but say there is no other explanation than poisoning for his condition.

"I firmly believe that the Russian secret service is behind my poisoning, possibly Russia's GRU military intelligence," Verzilov, 30, told Bild newspaper in his first interview since being taken into the Charite. "The poisoning was carried out so professionally that no other conclusion is possible."

He said the secret services might have tried out a new poison cocktail on him, judging by the speed with which it took effect.

"It didn't take several days until I noticed something — it was acute immediately. I don't have any memories of the following days," he said.

Search for motive

Verzilov, who lived in Toronto for several years and holds dual Russian-Canadian citizenship, is known in Russia for protest stunts, including briefly invading the pitch during the World Cup final in Moscow this year.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses Verzilov's hospitalization

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday 0:50

He told Bild he had wanted to investigate the killings of Russian journalists Orhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko in the Central African Republic in July.

"That could be why the secret services wanted to poison me," he said. "I think that is a more likely reason than the World Cup initiative."

Verzilov is pulled off the pitch after he stormed onto the field and interrupted the final match between France and Croatia. (Martin MeissneréAssociated Press)

Exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who financed the Russian journalists' work, said they were looking into a private Russian security firm known as Wagner that operates in CAR.

The Wagner company is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg entrepreneur dubbed "Putin's chef" because his restaurants hosted President Vladimir Putin's dinners with foreign dignitaries.

U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted Prigozhin and members of a "troll farm" he allegedly funded for waging "information warfare" against the United States through social media platforms and internet-based media.

Verzilov said he wanted to go back to Russia, adding: "I'm doing well now and I hope that I will be discharged as quickly as possible."

Activists and security services are on high alert for poison attacks with origins in Russia following the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain earlier this year. Britain has blamed Russia for the poisonings, but Russia has denied involvement.

They survived, but a British woman died after coming into contact with poison believed to have been thrown away by the Skripals' attackers.

In Moscow, lawyer Dmitry Dinze has formally asked the Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigative agency, to open an inquiry into Verzilov's suspected poisoning.

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press