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Kremlin plans London probe in ex-spy's death

German police find traces of radiation in homes

LONDON -- Russia plans to send investigators to London to conduct inquiries into the death of a former KGB agent, the chief prosecutor's office said yesterday, as forensic teams combed two houses in Germany and a London hotel now at the center of the investigation into his poisoning.

Police in Germany said traces of radiation were found at two Hamburg-area homes linked to a contact of the former KGB officer, Alexander Litvinenko.

At London's Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, where Litvinenko drank tea with a group of fellow Russians and where he seems to have been fatally poisoned, officers reportedly were testing a cup and a dishwasher for traces of polonium-210, the deadly isotope found in Litvinenko's body.

A spokeswoman for Russia's prosecutor general's office, who said she was not authorized to give her name to media outlets, said there were plans to send Russian investigators to London. "There is no concrete date," she said.

Andrei Nekrasov, a friend of Litvinenko, said there was concern among emigres in the British capital that the Kremlin would use its inquiries in London as a "pretext to harass exiles in London."

Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the family, said he and Litvinenko's wife, Marina, were prepared to meet Russian officials but on the condition that British police first tested the investigators for traces of polonium.

Litvinenko, 43, died in London on Nov. 23 after blaming President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning in a deathbed message, an accusation the Kremlin has vehemently denied.

British police said they had no details of the planned visit by Russian investigators and it was not immediately clear whether they would be given access to exiles granted political asylum by the British government.

Exiles in London feared the Russian investigators would seek to unsettle the emigre community, Nekrasov said.

He added that former Russian security officer Mikhail Trepashkin, serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted of divulging state secrets, had said a Kremlin agent previously ordered to monitor Litvinenko was among those appointed to investigate the killing.

German police said yesterday they had found traces of radiation at two Hamburg area homes linked to Dmitry Kovtun, a Russian businessman who was at the London hotel gathering. Radiation traces were found at his former wife's Hamburg apartment, and an initial scan also yielded signs of contamination at his former mother-in-law's home in Haselau, west of the port city.

A German airline said tests showed no traces of polonium-210 on an Airbus A-319 that took Kovtun to London from Hamburg on Nov. 1.

Germanwings said it had taken the plane out of service at Cologne-Bonn airport after learning from authorities that Kovtun had flown on it before he met Litvinenko.

Investigations in Britain have focused on the Pine Bar at London's Millennium Hotel, where Litvinenko held a morning meeting over tea and gin with three fellow Russians on Nov. 1 -- the day he fell ill.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper said police were testing a teacup and dishwasher at the hotel for signs of radiation.

Andrei Lugovoi, also a former Soviet agent, Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko, the head of a private Russian security firm, joined the meeting in the hotel's intimate, blond oak-paneled bar.

All three have denied involvement in the former spy's death.

Litvinenko later met with Mario Scaramella, an Italian security specialist, at a Piccadilly sushi bar.

By evening, Litvinenko was in a London hospital with stomach pains and nausea. He died within weeks from radiation poisoning that caused his hair to fall out and organs to fail.

All seven staff working at the bar on Nov. 1 showed evidence of exposure to polonium-210, Britain's Health Protection Agency said. Kovtun and Scaramella both have fallen ill since the meeting.

Dr. Michael Clark of the Health Protection Agency said it was likely the poisoning occurred at the hotel bar.

He said food, drinks, and cigarettes all could have been used to hide the poison.

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