By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
LONDON, Nov. 27 -- Traces of the radioactive substance responsible for the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko have been found in two downtown London offices, and three people who are not feeling well have been referred for tests to determine if they might also have been exposed, officials said Monday.
Home Secretary John Reid, speaking in the House of Commons, called for calm during the investigation of the death of Litvinenko, 43, who died Thursday from exposure to radioactive polonium-210. "The nature of this radiation is such that it does not travel over long distances, a few centimeters at most, and therefore there is no need for public alarm," Reid told legislators.
Reid said that about 500 people have called government hotlines established following Litvinenko's death and that only "a small number" had been referred for testing as a "very precautionary measure."
A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency said Monday evening that three people had been referred for urine tests to screen for radiation. She said that all three had reported being in the same areas Litvinenko visited on Nov. 1, the day he fell ill, and that they also were suffering from potential poisoning symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Reid cautioned against drawing premature judgments about what happened in this unprecedented case, noting that it was not even established that Litvinenko had been murdered; police are calling his case an "unexplained death."
Litvinenko was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following his death, a friend of Litvinenko's read a statement, which he said had been written by Litvinenko on his deathbed, alleging that Putin was behind his death. Kremlin officials have called those allegations "nonsense."
Reid told legislators that the Russian ambassador to Britain had been summoned to the Foreign Office and asked for Russian cooperation in the investigation.
Police said traces of polonium-210 had been discovered in offices at 7 Down St. and 25 Grosvenor Sq. in central London. They declined to provide further details, including why those addresses had come to the attention of investigators.
News media here reported that Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, another Putin critic who won asylum in Britain after fleeing Russia, maintains an office at the 7 Down St. building. Sky News reported that Litvinenko had visited a security company with offices at the Grosvenor Square building.
Litvinenko, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the domestic successor to the KGB, publicly accused FSB agents of involvement in apartment building bombings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people. He also accused his FSB superiors of ordering him to kill Berezovsky.
Berezovsky said in a telephone interview last week that he visited Litvinenko in the hospital during his illness and said Litvinenko told him he had "no doubt" that he had been poisoned on the "order from President Putin to kill him." Berezovsky said poisoning was "a classic way" that Russian agents work.
Traces of polonium-210 had already been found at two locations that Litvinenko visited on Nov. 1: the Itsu restaurant in Piccadilly, where he met an Italian contact, and the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, where he met several Russian men, including a former KGB agent. Traces had also been found in his home in Muswell Hill in north London.