Foul Play Suspected in Expat Death

An official report released by the Quebec Coroner's Bureau suggests that a Canadian Embassy employee who was found dead in his Moscow apartment just over a year ago may have been poisoned at a bar.

Marc Bastien, 34, was discovered by his housekeeper in his home on Kutuzovsky Prospekt on Dec. 12, 2000. He had been working as a computer specialist at the Canadian Embassy.

Initially, Moscow police said they would not open an investigation because there were no signs of violence, but they launched one later that month at the insistence of the Canadian Embassy.

"The embassy said that Bastien was a healthy man," Vsevolod Martemyanov, deputy chief of Moscow's Dorogomilovsky district prosecutor's office, said Tuesday.

"His relatives asked that his autopsy be in done in Quebec rather than Moscow. In 2001, we were sent the conclusions that the cause of death could not be determined. Two months ago we decided to suspend this case and not classify it as murder because there are no leads," Martemyanov said.

He said the case could be reclassified as a murder if new evidence surfaces.

While the Canadian autopsy results were handed to Russian law enforcement officials last year, the official coroner's report summing up data from both the investigation and the autopsy was released to the public last Friday by the Quebec Coroner's Bureau.

The report says Bastien had in his system a mix of alcohol and clozapine, a drug for severe cases of schizophrenia. When combined, the substances can cause the central nervous system to shut down.

The dangerous mix could have put Bastien into a coma, followed by respiratory failure, the report said.

But the exact cause of death could not be determined.

Bastien did not have a prescription for clozapine, and medical records cited in the report show he had no history of psychological illness.

Coroner Line Duchesne said investigators in Moscow and Canada believed the drug was slipped into Bastien's drink by an acquaintance at a bar, but no conclusive evidence had been found.

A Canadian police spokesman said officers were sent to Moscow in early 2001 to work with local investigators. He declined to comment further on the case.

The coroner's report -- which combines autopsy data, investigation results and depositions by acquaintances and witnesses -- also sheds light on Bastien's mysterious four months in Moscow and the events leading up to his death.

Bastien arrived in Moscow in September 2000. That summer, he had received a clean bill of health from a Canadian government doctor.

But Bastien's condition quickly deteriorated, according to the report. He lost 9 kilograms and told his co-workers it was because he couldn't find satisfactory food in Moscow. In November, he stopped playing hockey with colleagues. In early December, he complained of fatigue.

On the evening of Dec. 11, he met up with British friends at a bar. Each had a few beers but decided to change venues. But Bastien left on his own, and his friends did not see him again.

The investigation by Canadian and Moscow authorities suggests he went to a second bar with someone else, possibly a woman, and that the individual slipped a tablet into his drink or told him to take it for a hangover, the report says. The next morning he was found dead.

Staff Writer Nabi Abdullaev contributed to this report.