Poisoned chalice at Eskom

Within hours of Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s submitting his resignation last month, someone tried to poison him with cyanide. De Ruyter confirmed the incident to Rapport on Saturday. He has filed a charge of attempted murder after a significant amount of cyanide was found in his blood.

The alleged poisoning occurred on 12 December, two days before the official announcement of his resignation. According to colleagues and employees who saw him a few hours after submitting his resignation, he was completely disorientated and nauseous. His speech and balance were also impaired – all symptoms of moderate cyanide poisoning.

He had two blood tests taken, the first of which confirmed the presence of cyanide. A second comprehensive test for hydrogen cyanide indicated that the cyanide levels in his blood were higher than those in the blood of a healthy nonsmoker.

A cyanide acid level of about 15 micrograms per litre of blood is considered normal. Smokers’ blood can contain as much as 40 micrograms per litre. Cyanide levels of about 400 micrograms per litre or more are usually fatal. The hydrogen cyanide level in De Ruyter’s blood was 41.31 micrograms per litre – not enough to kill him, but enough to induce severe illness in a non-smoker.

De Ruyter says a follow-up test carried out on Friday will determine finally whether there was an attempt to poison him. A forensic pathologist says De Ruyter’s cyanide level was too low to be considered fully-fledged poisoning.

Another expert says the fact that De Ruyter experienced such intense symptoms suggests that he ingested something other than just the cyanide or a drug containing cyanide.

De Ruyter said he started feeling ill immediately after drinking his coffee. Apparently he has his own coffee cup at work, which he uses every morning.

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