An Italian academic who met the poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko the day he became ill from radiation is under police protection in London and undergoing medical tests, a legal source said on Tuesday.
Mario Scaramella, who has advised an Italian parliamentary commission on Soviet-era espionage, is being checked to find out if he too has been contaminated. Litvinenko died on Thursday.
“He ... is under British protection. He is undergoing medical tests to determine his possible contamination,” said the Rome-based source, who asked not to be named.
Britain’s Sky television said Scaramella was being held in a safe house on the outskirts of London and quoted a statement from Scaramella which said: “I have always said that I am willing to help them (the British police) and that is why I will retrace my steps and tell them everything that happened.
“The police also want me to have further medical tests to make sure that I am clear. I have already had some of those tests in Rome, which were negative.”
London’s Metropolitan police refused to confirm that Scaramella was under protection or was being interviewed.
Significant amounts of radioactive Polonium 210 were found in the body of Litvinenko, a former agent who became a fierce Kremlin critic and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his slow, agonizing death. Moscow denies involvement.
Radiation was found at the London sushi restaurant where Litvinenko met Scaramella on Nov. 1.
Radiation has also been detected at several more sites in London, including Litvinenko’s home, a hotel he visited, the offices of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the offices of Erinys, a security and risk management company.
Britain’s Health Protection Agency said it would update the number of people sent for radiological assessment later in the day. Three people were sent for tests on Monday, but a spokeswoman would not say whether Scaramella would be checked.
British police are investigating the Litvinenko case as a suspicious death.
There has been frenzied speculation in both British and Russian media about the motive for Litvinenko’s killing, some linking it to his reported investigations into Russian oil company Yukos and into the murder last month of prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Litvinenko’s death, only weeks after he became a British citizen, has strained relations between London and Moscow, and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman called for calm, saying it was vital to give police time to do their job.
“We have to deal with this particular case in the same way that we would deal with any other ... recognizing that in this case the police are confronted with a very complex set of circumstances to investigate,” he said. “The best thing we can do is give the police time and space to investigate ... and then draw whatever conclusions we need to.”
Scaramella has said he showed Litvinenko e-mails from a shared source warning that their lives might be in danger from St. Petersburg-based criminals. The e-mails said the same criminals, possibly acting for Moscow, had killed Politkovskaya.
Litvinenko had been investigating Politkovskaya’s death. He had also published a book accusing Russian security services of carrying out Moscow apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen rebels and used by Putin as justification for war against the separatists.