Russian Exile Got Warning On Day He Was Poisoned

By Mary Jordan and Sarah Delaney
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

LONDON, Nov. 21 -- Mario Scaramella, the Italian who had lunch in London with a former Russian spy on the day the man was poisoned, said Tuesday that he showed the Russian e-mails during the meal that warned their lives might be in danger.

At a news conference in Rome, Scaramella said that at a sushi restaurant Nov. 1, he showed Alexander Litvinenko messages "regarding their security" and referring to a "well-organized plot."

"I said, 'Alex, I received an alarm in the last few days from a source that you introduced to me,' " said Scaramella, a security expert. By his account, both of them discounted the threats, and Litvinenko said: " 'It's unbelievable. Don't worry about that.' "

In a separate interview later, Scaramella said the e-mails mentioned "dangerous people" behind the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose unsolved murder last month in Moscow has caused an international outcry. He said the e-mails indicated that those responsible for her death were members of the Russian mafia from St. Petersburg.

Scaramella stressed that this was not his opinion but what was written in the e-mails, which are in the possession of Scotland Yard.

An Italian senator, Paolo Guzzanti, who appeared at the news conference, said Scaramella had not administered the poison. Guzzanti headed a parliamentary committee investigating Cold War espionage; Scaramella has acted as a consultant to the panel.

Friends of Litvinenko, 43, who was a colonel in the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor to the KGB, said they believe that Russian agents and Putin might be behind the poisoning. Litvinenko has been severely critical of Putin and six years ago fled to Britain, where he received political asylum.

In Moscow, Kremlin officials denied accusations of Russian government involvement.

"Any allegations against Russia are unconvincing, to say the least," Sergei Ivanov, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, told the Interfax news agency Monday. "Since the elimination of Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera in 1959, the Soviet intelligence service and its successor . . . have never conducted operations aimed at the physical liquidation of unwelcome personalities."

New pictures of Litvinenko in his hospital bed showed that his head of thick, brown hair had completely fallen out and that he looked gaunt.

"He is much more tired, and he has difficulty speaking," said Alex Goldfarb, a friend who has been visiting him at the hospital.

Goldfarb said Litvinenko had told British police investigating the poisoning that before he had lunch with Scaramella, he met two Russians for tea at a London hotel.

London doctors attending Litvinenko said Tuesday that they are now unsure what exactly was used to poison him. After the latest round of medical tests, physician Amit Nathwani told reporters that "it is possible we may never find out." Thallium sulfate, a toxic substance used in rat poison, was initially suspected, but Nathwani said Tuesday it was unclear what caused such severe illness.

Litvinenko began vomiting Nov. 1, but at first his condition was treated as an intestinal problem, and doctors now say precious time in diagnosing and treating his condition was lost. Nearly two weeks later, when he worsened, tests confirmed that he was poisoned.

John Henry, a leading toxicologist hired by the victim's family, said earlier Tuesday that Litvinenko might have ingested a radioactive substance and might need a bone marrow transplant.

Delaney reported from Rome. Correspondent Peter Finn in Moscow contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company