A wealthy Russian whistleblower vomited repeatedly after eating in a Paris restaurant the night before he died in mysterious circumstances, an inquest has heard.
Businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy appeared “very stressed” about his work and “on another planet” earlier in the day, his secret lover Elmira Medynska told a London court.
Ms Medynska, a Ukrainian national, and married Mr Perepilichnyy, 44, were on a two-day break in the French capital in November 2012, staying at the five-star Bristol hotel in Paris.
They went shopping for a Prada bag and Louis Vuitton shoes before going for dinner in the evening.
He complained about the food during their last evening together and sent back his tempura prawns, then vomited repeatedly when they got back to the hotel, Ms Medynska said.
On his return home to Weybridge, Surrey, the next day, his wife made him his favourite traditional sorrel soup, the inquest has heard. He later collapsed and died while out jogging.
The businessman’s death was originally attributed to natural causes, but traces of a chemical that can be found in the poisonous plant Gelsemium elegans were later found in his stomach.
Before he died he had been helping to expose a £160 million money-laundering operation involving Russian tax officials, the court has heard.
Ms Medynska only learned of his death from the internet on New Year’s Eve 2012 and later received a threatening message from his email saying she would “die soon” from Aids.
Peter Skelton, counsel to the coroner, asked if the email could have been sent by Mr Perepilichnyy’s widow.
She said: “Maybe. I don’t know.”
Ms Medynska, 28, who works as a fashion designer, appeared at the Old Bailey by video link from Paris.
She told how she met Mr Perepilichnyy through a dating agency and he paid for flights, hotels in Kiev, Nice and Paris, and meals together over eight months.
The inquest heard he changed hotels and used a false name, keeping the relationship “secret”.
Describing their date in Paris on 8 November, two days before the businessman’s death, Ms Medynska said when she met him at the hotel he was smiling.
But when they went out at lunchtime, "he was a little bit nervous," she said.
“I think he was nervous about his work or business. I did not ask him questions about if something happened, I just want to have relaxing time with him. I talked him about subject to make him relaxed because he was very stressed when I met him.”
At lunch in a bistro at the George V Hotel, Mr Perepilichnyy’s hands were shaking so much he spilt his red wine, the former model said.
She added they went back to their hotel before having a late dinner at a restaurant where he had soup and more red wine.
The next day, he was on “another planet” when they went shopping together.
She said: “He was watching his phone. I was upset because he gave me no attention and I was not in very good mood.”
Mr Skelton asked if he might have been distracted by work.
She said: “Maybe he missed some mails. I respect him as a businessman. I understood he has a job to do even if he is spending time with a woman in Paris.”
On 9 November they went out to the Buddha Bar for dinner but he sent back his tempura prawns because it was “not nice”, and ate sushi or sashimi instead.
Ms Medynska said: “He said he did not like the taste. He was very irritated. He was very mad about the quality of the food.”
Afterwards, he felt “better in the fresh air”, but when they got back in their hotel suite he vomited three times in the bathroom, the inquest heard.
She said: “I think maybe he vomited because it was not good food in the restaurant. I did not knock on the door because I did not want to make him feel uncomfortable.”
On the morning of 10 November, she said Mr Perepilichnyy was “looking very nice, good mood, smile”.
They ate a breakfast of eggs and hot chocolate before going to the airport together, for Mr Perepilichnyy to return to London and Ms Medynska to Ukraine.
She said: “He told me he wanted to see me. He said he want to meet in December in Switzerland.”
Later that day, Mr Perepilichnyy died near his home.
Ms Medynska said she received a call purporting to be from a British hospital and was told Mr Perepilichnyy had been in a car accident.
She said: “I was very shocked and afraid about this news. I thought it was like a bad joke happened to me.”
On learning of his death months later, the witness said she was “scared because I know nothing about this man”, not even that he was married with children.
In light of publicity around the case, Ms Medynska was worried people would wrongly connect her to “Russian mafia”.
She said it had affected her shoe fashion business and she had lost a deal with a Jimmy Choo executive in London.
“His friends said he did not like people from Russian mafia so I lost a very good partner in my business. I was very upset about that," she said.
Mr Perepilichnyy had been helping Bill Browder’s Hermitage Capital Investment to expose a £160 million money-laundering operation, the court has heard.
A month before his death, he had fought off a legal challenge by a debt recovery firm allegedly led by the prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko poison case.
The court heard that Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev had been in Paris between 10 November and 13 November, but Ms Medynska did not know it at the time.
Mr Browder attended the inquest, which is examining whether Mr Perepilichnyy died of natural causes or was murdered.
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