Russian Tied to Ex-Spy Also Ill From Radiation

The coffin of former Russian domestic spy Alexander Litvinenko, 43, is carried through a downpour to his grave site at Highgate Cemetery in north London.
The coffin of former Russian domestic spy Alexander Litvinenko, 43, is carried through a downpour to his grave site at Highgate Cemetery in north London. (Pool Photo By Cathal Mcnaughton Via Associated Press)
By Peter Finn and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 8, 2006

MOSCOW, Dec. 7 -- A Russian businessman who met with a former Russian domestic intelligence officer in London the day the man fell ill from radioactive poison has himself become suddenly and seriously sick, Russian news organizations reported Thursday night.

Dmitry Kovtun, a business consultant who met with Alexander Litvinenko on Nov. 1 at a bar in the Millennium Hotel in London, suffered a severe health breakdown from radiation exposure, according to the reports. He had earlier been interviewed by Russian investigators, with detectives from Scotland Yard present as well.

The investigation of Litvinenko's mysterious death has widened with each day, as technicians follow a radioactive trail left by the poison polonium-210 across London and Moscow and in the cabins of jetliners that flew between the two cities.

Critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have accused his government of orchestrating a covert execution of Litvinenko to silence a detractor; the Kremlin rejects those claims as absurd and says Russia only suffers from the burgeoning international publicity over the death. No one has been formally identified as a suspect in the case, which has strained relations between Russia and Britain.

Kovtun is the second person reported seriously sickened by the radiation, though others have tested positive for low-level exposure to the substance. On Thursday, British health officials added seven people to the exposure list -- employees in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1.

The Russian prosecutor's office, accused in Britain of dragging its feet in the inquiry, said Thursday it has opened its own criminal investigations. "The examination revealed that Litvinenko died after being poisoned with a radioactive nuclide and Kovtun . . . was also found to have been poisoned with a radioactive nuclide," the prosecutor's statement said. Opening criminal cases could be the first step in pursuing a prosecution here.

Andrei Lugovoy, another Russian who was present at the London meeting Nov. 1, is undergoing tests at a Moscow clinic. He was to speak with British and Russian investigators Thursday, but the meeting was postponed.

"We are on hold," Lugovoy's attorney, Andrei Romashov, said in a brief phone interview. He said his client, a former KGB officer, did not ask for the postponement; Russian news agency RIA Novosti said it was requested by Russian investigators for "technical reasons."

Romashov said Kovtun's attorney told him that his client was sick but not in a coma. Russian media, citing medical sources at Kovtun's hospital, continued to report Thursday night that the businessman had slipped into a coma and was experiencing failure of major organs.

Kovtun has said he first met Litvinenko in October to discuss possible business deals with British companies interested in investing in Russia. He described himself in a recent interview as a longtime resident of Germany who had returned to Moscow to set up a business.

He is the latest person to have tested positive for polonium-210 radiation. Litvinenko's wife, Marina, has been told that small amounts were found in her urine but that risk to her health was low. Mario Scaramella, an Italian who also met with Litvinenko on Nov. 1, in a London sushi restaurant, had more significant amounts of polonium in his system, doctors said, but he is not showing symptoms and was discharged from a London hospital Wednesday.

British officials played down any threat to the seven hotel workers. "There is no health risk in the short term and in the long term the risk is judged to be very small on the basis of initial tests," Britain's Health Protection Agency said in a statement.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company