Toxin found in security expert who met ex-Russian spy

Posted in Other | 01-Dec-06 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Italian defence analyst Mario Scaramella speaks to reporters during a press conference in Rome in this November 21, 2006 file photo.

Relative of Russian also contaminated as London saga grows

LONDON: An Italian security expert who met with Alexander Litvinenko the day the Russian former spy believed he was given the poison that eventually killed him has also tested positive for the same radioactive substance, British officials said Friday.

Meanwhile, John Reid, the British home secretary, said that tests confirmed that an adult member of Litvinenko's family tested positive for a small amount of a radioactive substance. That person was not identified.

Mario Scaramella, an academic who met Litvinenko at a London sushi bar Nov. 1 - the same day that Litvinenko became ill - tested positive for polonium 210, the rare radioactive substance that poisoned the former agent, according to law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. Litvinenko died on Nov. 23.

The British Health Protection Agency confirmed that a person had tested positive for polonium 210, but did not identify Scaramella. The agency said that anyone with such high levels of the radioactive substance would be hospitalized.

Scaramella said Wednesday that doctors had cleared him after a series of tests.

It was unclear what prompted the new diagnosis. Doctors said he had "significant" amounts of the substance in his body, British media reported, although Scaramella said previously that he neither ate nor drank at the sushi restaurant when he met Litvinenko.

At the lunch, Scaramella discussed an e-mail he received from a source naming the killers of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on Oct. 7 at her Moscow apartment building. The e-mail reportedly said that he and Litvinenko were also on the hit list.

Three pathologists, meanwhile, completed Litvinenko's autopsy at the Royal London Hospital's forensic science facility, said Andrew Reid, a coroner. Wearing protective suits, one pathologist was representing the government, a second was acting on behalf of Litvinenko's wife, Marina, and the third was an independent specialist attending in case the autopsy led to criminal prosecution. The results may not be available for several days.

Also Friday, a hotel in England was evacuated Friday as the police and health workers carried out tests for polonium 210. The hotel was being examined by specialist teams as part of the inquiry into Litvinenko's death, according to the police in Sussex in southeastern England.

The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, met her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Amman and repeated her government's request for co- operation from the Russian authorities in the investigation of Litvinenko's death.

In a deathbed accusation, Litvinenko blamed President Vladimir Putin of Russia for his poisoning, a charge Putin has denied.

Lavrov restated earlier assurances that Moscow would cooperate fully, Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Russian news agencies reported later that Lavrov said Moscow was ready to answer any questions from Britain about the death.

"When the questions are formulated and sent through the existing channels, we will consider them thoroughly," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying in Jordan. "Now the ball is on the English side, and everything depends on the British investigators."

The police investigation into Litvinenko's death has so far found traces of radiation at 12 locations, Reid said Thursday.

Among the sites were two British Airways airliners that had traveled between London and Moscow. A third BA plane that was grounded in Moscow was being flown back to London to undergo examination on Friday.