Academic in UK positive for polonium

Italian security expert reportedly had contact with Russian spy Litvinenko.

russian spy 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
russian spy 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
An Italian security expert tested positive for the same radioactive substance that killed former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, British media reported Friday, while pathologists started an autopsy on the ex-KGB agent. Mario Scaramella, an academic and security expert who met with Litvinenko at a London sushi bar on November 1 - the same day that Litvinenko became ill - tested positive for polonium-210, a rare radioactive substance which also poisoned Litvinenko, media reported. Litvinenko died on November 23. Britain's Health Protection Agency confirmed that a person had tested positive for polonium-210, but did not identify Scaramella. Scaramella told The Associated Press on Wednesday that doctors had cleared him after a series of tests. It was unclear what prompted the new diagnosis, and Scaramella could not be reached immediately. Doctors said he had "significant" amounts of the toxin in his body, British media reported, although Scaramella told reporters previously that he neither ate nor drank at the sushi restaurant when he met Litvinenko. Three pathologists were working on Litvinenko's autopsy at the Royal London Hospital's forensic science facility, coroner Dr. Andrew Reid said. 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 43-year-old former KGB agent's funeral will be held soon after the autopsy, his friend Alex Goldfarb said. Also on Friday, Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett met her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Amman, Jordan, and repeated the British government's request for co-operation from the Russian authorities in the investigation of Litvinenko's death. In a deathbed accusation, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, a charge Putin strongly 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. "We will proceed in this case, as we would in any other case, on the basis of evidence. That means letting the police establish the facts first," the spokesman said. "But equally, the prime minister has said there will be no diplomatic or political bar to that police investigation." 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, Britain's Home Secretary John 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 to be flown back to London to undergo examination on Friday. The Health Protection Agency said it has seen 139 people as a precaution, and 24 of those were referred to a specialist clinic.