Ex-wife of Litvinenko suspect tested for polonium poisoning

Dimitry Kovtun, a Russian contact of the murdered former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, left substantial traces of radioactive polonium in Hamburg and may have poisoned his ex-wife and her two children with it, German police disclosed yesterday.

Mr Kovtun's former wife, a German named Marina Wall, 31, and her two children, aged one and three, were being tested for radioactive contamination in a Hamburg hospital together with Ms Wall's male companion.

German investigators said they had found polonium traces on all four after carrying out an extensive search of Ms Wall's Hamburg apartment, where Mr Kovtun, 41, spent the night on a sofa at the end of October before flying to London to meet Mr Litvinenko on 1 November. Mr Litvinenko was taken ill the same day.

Polonium-210 traces were also found in a bath and on a sofa in the apartment. Further traces of the substance were found in car used by Mr Kovtun, on a residence permit he handed to the Hamburg city authorities at the end of October and in the home of his ex-wife's mother, which he visited during the same period.

State prosecutors said they were assuming that Mr Kovtun had carried polonium into Germany from Moscow when he arrived on 28 October and appeared to rule out the other possibility, that the substance was inside his body and he had left traces of it on objects by sweating.

The statement appeared to further substantiate comments by German investigators who said on Sunday that they could not rule out that Mr Kovtun was actively involved in the murder plot. A former Russian soldier who served in East Germany before the collapse of Communism, Mr Kovtun stayed on in Germany where he worked as a consultant to firms investing in Russia.

A British police investigator has arrived in Hamburg to gather information about Mr Kovtun. German media reports were unable to shed any further light on claims that he was in a Moscow hospital where he is reported to be receiving treatment for radiation poisoning.

Andrei Lugovoi, a business associate of Mr Kovtun who is believed to be in the same Moscow hospital where he is undergoing checks for radiation poisoning, was questioned by British and Russian police yesterday.

Mr Lugovoi, who was with Mr Kovtun at the 1 November meeting, told the Itar-Tass news agency: "I gave testimony exclusively as a witness. I was officially informed of that before the interrogation. They made no charges against me."

Mr Lugovoi said he was questioned by Russian detectives in the presence of British police.

Russian detectives, who have now opened their own case mirroring the murder investigation in Britain, may fly to London later this week.

As the investigation broadened yesterday, the author Frederick Forsyth said that if he had gone to his publisher with such a plotline, "I think my publisher would have advised me to drop it and stick to something realistic".

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