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Poisoned ex-spy had powerful enemies says contact

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) An Italian contact of a former Russian spy who was poisoned in London said today the Russian mafia and corrupt government officials had a strong motive to silence Alexander Litvinenko.

Mario Scaramella, who helped Italy's parliament investigate Cold War-era Soviet espionage, said he met Litvinenko at a London sushi bar on the day he is thought to have been poisoned. He said Litvinenko had met two Russians at a hotel earlier.

Litvinenko, 41, a persistent critic of President Vladimir Putin, says he fell ill after the meetings three weeks ago.

''We know very well who are the enemies of Litvinenko. The work we did for years was to underline the links among Russian mafia and some high-level corrupt officers in the Russian government,'' Scaramella told BBC radio.

''I can only imagine that the people who he worked against ...

may be interested to attack him. The quality of his work, the level of expertise of this man, is so high that he can really represent a danger for them.'' Scaramella said that when he met Litvinenko on November 1 in London he showed the Russian emails from a mutual source warning their lives may be in danger.

The threat came from organised criminals based in St Petersburg, possibly acting on behalf of Russia's government, he said.

Friends of Litvinenko have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a plot to poison him but Russia has dismissed as ''nonsense'' claims that its agents poisoned the former agent.

Litvinenko, now a British citizen, had been investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, also a vocal critic of Putin, who was gunned down at her Moscow apartment on October 7.

Litvinenko has lost all his hair and is suffering major organ failure. He is now in intensive care in a London hospital.

The toxicologist treating him said the poison may have been laced with a radioactive substance to render it more lethal.

Britain's anti-terrorism police are investigating the case, which could have far-reaching diplomatic consequences.

Asked whether he feared for his own life, Scaramella said he was not as well-informed as Litvinenko and was therefore unlikely to be a main target.

Litvinenko co-authored a book in 2002 entitled ''Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within'', in which he alleged Federal Security Service agents co-ordinated apartment block bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people in 1999. Officials blame the bombings on Chechen rebels.

REUTERS LL BD1506

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