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3 more hotel workers exposed to radiation

British health authorities said Tuesday three more hotel workers tested positive for low levels of polonium-210, the radioactive element that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
/ Source: The Associated Press

British authorities said Tuesday three more hotel workers tested positive for low levels of the radioactive element that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Tests showed two staff members at the Millennium Hotel and one at the Sheraton Hotel were exposed to polonium-210, the Health Protection Agency said. That brings to 10 the total number of people in Britain who tested positive for radiation since Litvinenko died on Nov. 23 in London.

The former spy’s wife, Marina, and seven members of staff at the Millennium Hotel’s bar had tested positive. However, one of the hotel workers was later found to have normal radiation levels.

On his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for involvement in his poisoning — an allegation that the Kremlin denied. The former KGB agent and harsh Kremlin critic later put a strain on Russian-British relations.

On Tuesday, British investigators completed more than two weeks of work in Russia investigating the death. Scotland Yard investigators “were shown complete and all-around assistance,” the Russian Prosecutor General’s office said.

The British investigators were not allowed to question witnesses themselves but observed as Russian investigators conducted questioning.

It was not immediately clear when the investigators, who arrived in Moscow on Dec. 4, would return to Britain. The British Embassy had no immediate comment.

Kremlin dismisses UK concerns
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, brushed aside reports that Scotland Yard investigators were unhappy with how the Russians handled the investigation and said Russian prosecutors were not aware if the British were dissatisfied.

“British investigators were provided all opportunities to meet and to interrogate those witnesses whom they wanted to interrogate connected with this,” he said.

Britain is also seeking French help in questioning a Russian living in the French Alps who has been linked to the case, judicial officials said Tuesday.

Yevgeny Limarev is expected to be questioned by a French magistrate, with British officials in attendance, officials said. It was not immediately clear when the questioning would take place.

British media have described Limarev as a KGB defector, although he has disputed that, saying he works as a consultant specializing in Russian politics and security issues. Limarev has also disputed reports that he told Italian security expert Mario Scaramella that Russian security veterans were plotting to kill Litvinenko and other Kremlin critics.

‘Hit list’
Scaramella met with Litvinenko at a London sushi bar on Nov. 1, the day the former spy fell ill. Reports said Scaramella showed Litvinenko a supposed “hit list” from Limarev at that meeting.

The Russians and British have not given details on who was questioned in Moscow. But Russian news reports said the questioning focused on two Russian businessmen who had also met with Litvinenko in a London hotel on Nov. 1.

One of them was Dmitry Kovtun, who is undergoing treatment for radiation poisoning at a Moscow clinic. The Prosecutor General’s office has opened a case of attempted murder in connection with his poisoning. Another who was reportedly questioned repeatedly was businessman Andrei Lugovoi.

Detected at sites in Hamburg
German prosecutors are investigating whether Kovtun may have illegally handled radioactive material after authorities found traces of polonium-210 in several locations in Hamburg visited by Kovtun just before he flew to London for the Nov. 1 meeting.

Prosecutors say he may have been a victim or could have been involved in procuring the polonium.

Lugovoi, Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko, a third Russian businessman who was in London the weekend of Nov. 1, have denied involvement in Litvinenko’s death.

Litvinenko once worked for the Federal Security Service, one of the main successor agencies to the KGB. He broke with the FSB in 1998 after he accused his superiors of ordering him to kill Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon who was then a significant behind-the-scenes player in Russian politics.

Litvinenko later fled to Britain, where he was granted citizenship. In 2004, he wrote a book accusing the FSB of orchestrating the bombing of Russian apartment buildings in 1999, allegedly to stir up support for Russia’s second war against Chechen separatists.

Before he died, Litvinenko said he suspected he had been poisoned by Kremlin agents who were concerned about his efforts to investigate this year’s murder in Moscow of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was a prominent critic of the Kremlin.