Associate of Poisoned Spy Tests Positive for Radiation

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There are new concerns in Britain surrounding the poisoning death of a former Russian spy. An Italian security expert who once met with the late Alexander Litvinenko has tested positive for radiation poisoning. Daniel McGrory, senior correspondent at The Times of London, discusses the investigation with Madeleine Brand.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

We have an update now on the poisoned Russia spy story. The man Alexander Litvinenko met at a sushi restaurant in London the day he fell ill, has tested positive for radiation poisoning. Italian academic Mario Scaramella reportedly has a significant amount of polonium-210 in him. Earlier, he told reporters he had not been contaminated and had been cleared of any involvement in Litvinenko's death.

Daniel McGrory of The Times of London joins me again. Hi, Daniel.

Mr. DANIEL MCGRORY (The Times, London): How are you?

BRAND: Tell us how Scaramella is doing. He must be quite ill.

Mr. MCGRORY: Strangely, he is not ill but he is very frightened. What's happened is that the tests he took, he was originally led to believe that he was, as you say, cleared of polonium-210. What has happened is that a further test they've taken shows, quote, a significant amount. Now, that's likely to scare the living daylights out of anybody, all of us having been told that a microscopic amount of this can kill.

In Mr. Scaramella's case, he's showing no signs of any illness or any particular distress. What they have though said is there may be long-term health implications for him. The sad fact is that he may well contract cancer, as a consequence of inhaling or ingesting this poison. What's happened, Madeleine, is that anyone who touched this stuff on their hands, on their clothes, they would not fall ill and that contaminant can be safely washed off. It appears what distinguishes Mr. Scaramella, he is the only person other than Mr. Litvinenko who appears to have this polonium-210 inside him.

BRAND: And, of course, Mr. Litvinenko died from this poisoning. Tell us about what Mr. Litvinenko and Mr. Scaramella were doing the night Mr. Litvinenko fell ill. They met at a sushi restaurant. Why did they meet?

Mr. MCGRORY: What's happened is this Italian academic, Mr. Scaramella, he was involved in a parliamentary investigation back in Rome. And what they were looking into back there was the activities of the KGB in Italy over many years standing; it was called the Mitrokhin Commission. And Mr. Scaramella claimed to be an investigator to be well aware of the dirty tricks the Kremlin plays on some its enemies abroad. He met with Mr. Litvinenko in the course of that inquiry and he says that Mr. Litvinenko tipped him off, the Italian off, that there was a death squad out for him.

Mr. Scaramella obviously repaid this by coming to London and saying, guess what, I've come across a hit list of people. You are on it, I am on it, an Italian senator is on it, Mr. Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch is on it and a whole list and cast of people who he said were at risk from a freelance bunch of ex-FSB, ex-KGB agents, now working for a security company from Moscow. And they were trailing the world, it would appear, knocking off opponents of President Putin.

They've compared notes. Mr. Litvinenko said, look, this is quite worrying but let me go away and check it. The two of them parted. They agreed they would meet the following day. That evening, Mr. Scaramella telephoned Mr. Litvinenko, said, you know, what do you make of this list? And he said, look, frankly, I haven't gotten around to really checking it with my sources. Kind of feeling desperately unwell, I think it's the flu.

BRAND: And then, of course, we know what happened next.

Mr. MCGRORY: Yeah.

BRAND: So these people on this list must now be worried.

Mr. MCGRORY: They are worried. I mean, many of them have to be sort of have been warned before, threatened before. They're all enemies of the Kremlin. They've all fallen out with Mr. Putin along the way. Others of the former KGB renegades, like Mr. Litvinenko, who simply left the service have come to the West, tried to make money through various ways. Both hiring themselves out, has to be said, as personal bodyguards to very rich men. They also work as business consultants - whatever that may mean, covers a multitude of sins - and going into business enterprises. We know Mr. Litvinenko was very keen to begin a business career, rather than a journalistic one. Lord knows we know that there's not much money in journalism.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: That is the truth. Okay. Daniel McGrory is a reporter for The Times of London. Thanks, Daniel.

Mr. MCGRORY: Thanks a lot.

BRAND: Stay with us, NPR's DAY To DAY continues.

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