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Security expert, ex-spy's widow test positive for radioactive poison

LONDON An Italian security expert who met with former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko the day he fell fatally ill has tested positive for the same radioactive substance found in the ex-spy s body, authorities said today. Litvinenko s wife tested positive as well, a friend said.

The Italian security agent, Mario Scaramella, met with Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on Nov. 1 the day the former intelligence agent first reported the symptoms that ultimately led to his death.

The Italian tested positive for polonium-210, the rare isotope found in Litvinenko s body, according to law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

Litvinenko s wife, Marine, had been very slightly contaminated by the radioactive substance found in her husband s body, the former agent s friend, Alex Goldfarb, told The Associated Press. He said she did not have to seek medical treatment.

Home Secretary John Reid confirmed that a member of Litvinenko s family had tested positive for signs of polonium-210, but he did not name the person. Pat Troop, chief executive of the Britain s Health Protection Agency, said the family member faced a very small long-term health risk.

In Ireland, meanwhile, authorities also tested the hospital that treated former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar after he became violently ill during a conference last week an incident his aides have described as another poisoning.

Irish health officials said tests were being carried out to gauge any risks to public health at the Dublin hospital, but they refused to say whether they were searching for traces of polonium.

Litvinenko died Nov. 23 at a central London hospital. Pathologists, wearing protective suits to guard against radiation, began an autopsy today.

At the Nov. 1 meeting with Litvinenko, Scaramella who earlier this week said

doctors had cleared him discussed an e-mail he received from a source naming the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist and Kremlin critic who was gunned down Oct. 7 in Moscow. The e-mail reportedly outlined that he and Litvinenko were also on the hit list.

In a letter released today by human rights activists, a former Russian security officer now jailed said he had also warned Litvinenko about a government-sponsored death squad that intended to kill him and other Kremlin opponents.

Litvinenko, 43, a Kremlin critic who lived in Britain, died at a London hospital. In a deathbed statement, he blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning charges the Kremlin rejected as sheer nonsense.

Back in 2002, I warned Alexander Litvinenko that they set up a special team to kill him, the former security services officer, Mikhail Trepashkin, wrote in the letter dated Nov. 23 the day of Litvinenko s death.

The letter was released by rights activists in Yekaterinburg, the center of the Ural Mountains province where he is serving his four-year sentence. Its authenticity could not immediately be confirmed.

A spokesman for Russia s Federal Security Service, the KGB successor agency known by its Russian acronym FSB, refused to comment on Trepashkin s claim.

Trepashkin was arrested in October 2003 and convicted on charges of divulging state secrets while investigating allegations of FSB involvement in a series of deadly apartment bombings that killed about 300 people in Moscow and two other cities in 1999.

The government blamed the explosions on Chechnya-based rebels, but Litvinenko and other Kremlin critics alleged they were staged by authorities as a pretext for launching the current Chechen war.

Traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites in Britain and five jetliners were being investigated for possible contamination.

A hotel in Sussex, southeastern England, was briefly evacuated today as police and health workers carried out tests for polonium-210. The hotel, set in 186 acres of countryside, had been visited by Scaramella after he met with Litvinenko, authorities said. It was later reopened.

British Airways said today that one of its planes that has been parked at a Moscow airport would be flown back to London later in the day for a radiation check. Traces of radiation were found on it and two other aircraft that have traveled the Moscow-London route since Nov. 1, when Litvinenko is believed to have been poisoned.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and

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