- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

LONDON — An Italian security specialist who met with former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko the day he fell fatally ill has tested positive for the same radioactive substance found in the ex-spy’s body, authorities said yesterday. Mr. Litvinenko’s wife tested positive as well, a friend said.

The Italian agent, Mario Scaramella, met with Mr. Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on Nov. 1 — the day the former intelligence agent first reported the symptoms that ultimately led to his death.

The impact of the investigation was widely felt yesterday — from southern England, where a hotel was temporarily evacuated and checked for radiation, to Ireland, where a hospital was tested, and to Italy, where the Health Ministry sought to reassure the public there was no danger there.

Mr. Scaramella tested positive for polonium-210, the rare isotope found in Mr. Litvinenko’s body, but he was exposed to a much lower level of radiation than the ex-spy, doctors treating him at London’s University College Hospital said yesterday. He has shown “no symptoms of radiation poisoning,” hospital spokesman Keith Paterson said.

Mr. Litvinenko’s wife, Marine, was also “very slightly contaminated” by the radioactive substance found in her husband’s body, the former agent’s friend, Alex Goldfarb, said. He said she did not have to seek medical treatment.

British Home Secretary John Reid confirmed that a member of Mr. Litvinenko’s family had tested positive for signs of polonium-210, but he did not name the person.

In Ireland, meanwhile, authorities also tested the hospital that treated former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar after he became violently ill during a conference last week — an incident his aides have described as another poisoning.

Irish health officials said tests were being carried out to gauge any risks to public health at the Dublin hospital, but they refused to say whether they were searching for traces of polonium.

Mr. Litvinenko died Nov. 23 at a central London hospital and pathologists, wearing protective suits to guard against radiation, began an autopsy yesterday.

At the Nov. 1 meeting with Mr. Litvinenko, Mr. Scaramella discussed an e-mail he received from a source naming the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist and Kremlin critic who was gunned down Oct. 7 in Moscow. The e-mail reportedly said he and Mr. Litvinenko were also on the hit list.

Mr. Litvinenko, 43, a Kremlin critic who lived in Britain, in a deathbed statement blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning — charges the Kremlin rejected as “sheer nonsense.”

In a letter released yesterday, a former Russian security officer — now jailed — said he also had warned Mr. Litvinenko in 2002 about a government-sponsored death squad that intended to kill him.

Mikhail Trepashkin’s letter was released by human rights activists in Yekaterinburg, the center of the Ural Mountains province where he is serving his four-year sentence.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was ready to answer concrete questions from Britain concerning Mr. Litvinenko’s death, Russian news agencies reported.

Mr. Gaidar, the former Russian prime minister who fell ill in Ireland, was treated in the intensive care unit at Dublin’s James Connolly Memorial Hospital, which also was being tested yesterday for signs of hazardous materials.

Mr. Gaidar, 50, who served briefly as prime minister in the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin and is one of the leaders of a liberal opposition party, began vomiting and fainted during a conference in Ireland on Nov. 24 — a day after Mr. Litvinenko’s death. Mr. Gaidar’s daughter, Maria, said in Moscow that his life was no longer in danger and he was slowly recovering.

Traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites in Britain and five jetliners were being investigated for possible contamination.

A hotel in Sussex, southeastern England, was briefly evacuated yesterday as police and health workers carried out tests for polonium-210. The hotel, set in 186 acres of countryside, had been visited by Mr. Scaramella after he met with Mr. Litvinenko, authorities said.

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