Sunday, December 03, 2006

UK poisoned spy probe widens to U.S. and Russia

LONDON, England (AP) -- An inquiry into the death of a poisoned ex-KGB spy was expanding outside Britain, the country's senior law and order official said Sunday, as investigators visited Washington and prepared to travel to Moscow.

A potential witness in the investigation into the death of former Russian agent and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko had been interviewed in the United States and a team was ready to leave London for Russia within days, a police official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case, said British police hoped to question a number of people in Moscow -- including Andrei Lugovoi, another former spy who met Litvinenko on November 1, the day the 43-year-old fell ill.

Home Secretary John Reid said Sunday the inquiry was expanding and would go wherever "the police take it."

"Over the next few days I think all of these things I think will widen out a little from the circle just being here in Britain," Reid told Britain's Sky News television.

In London, one of Litvinenko's contacts was undergoing further hospital tests after showing traces of contamination with a radioactive substance, polonium-210.

Mario Scaramella, a 36-year-old Italian security consultant, was well and showing "normal" test results, London's University College Hospital said in statement Sunday. (Watch how worried you should be about polonium-210 poisoning )

Scaramella, who had been working for the Italian Parliament's Mitrokhin Commission investigating KGB activity in Italy, met Litvinenko at a central London sushi bar on November 1.

He told Litvinenko about an e-mail he received from a source naming the purported killers of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on October 7 at her Moscow apartment building. The e-mail reportedly said that he and Litvinenko -- a friend of the reporter -- were also on the hit list. (Watch Scaramella say how he told spy they were both on a secret hit list )

Tests on Friday confirmed Scaramella had been exposed to polonium-210, the rare substance found in Litvinenko's body before he died in London on November 23. But doctors said Scaramella had been exposed to a much lower level of the radioactive material.

Reid declined to comment on the claims of friends of Litvinenko who have accused the Kremlin of involvement in the ex-spy's poisoning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the charges as "nonsense." (Watch scientists working with polonium in a lab )

"The worst thing we can do is speculate. We will end up with egg on our face. This isn't a game of Cluedo," Reid said, referring to a murder mystery board game.

British officers, who are being assisted by the FBI, have interviewed ex-KGB officer Yuri Shvets in Virginia, the police official said. Shvets had claimed to have compiled a dossier on criminal charges made by Russian prosecutors against figures connected to the Yukos oil company.

Former Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, a Russian exile living in Israel, told The Associated Press last week that Litvinenko had given him a document related to the charges.

Nevzlin -- charged by Russian prosecutors with organizing murders, fraud and tax evasion -- claimed the inquiries may have provided a motive for the ex-spy's murder.

Litvinenko reported feeling unwell on November 1 and died three weeks later, his body withered, his hair fallen out and his organs ravaged. (Autopsy performed on Litvinenko)

The Sunday Times newspaper quoted Lugovoi on Sunday as saying he had also been contaminated with polonium-210.

He denied that he and two business associates, Dmitri Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko, who met Litvinenko together on November 1, were involved in Litvinenko's death.

"We suspect that someone has been trying to frame us," the Sunday Times quoted Lugovoi as saying. "Someone passed this stuff onto us ... to point the finger at us and distract the police." He did not say whether he had fallen ill.

Three British Airways planes which had been grounded for testing for a radioactive substance were cleared Saturday to resume service. The Health Protection Agency -- which deals with public health issues in Britain -- said that although very low levels of polonium 210 were found on two of the planes, there was no risk to passengers.

Another airline, easyJet, said Scaramella had flown with them to London from Naples on October 31 and returned on November 3, two days after his meeting with Litvinenko. The HPA said there was no risk to the public from those flights.

A hotel and London's Emirates Stadium -- home of the Arsenal soccer team, where some of Litvinenko's contacts attended a game -- were also searched, but no public health hazard was found, the HPA said. A total of 24 people have now been referred for tests for possible radiation exposure.

Results of Litvinenko's autopsy are expected next week and the ex-spy's funeral is also expected to take place in London. Due to the levels of radiation in his body, the coffin will be sealed.


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