Meeting the Italian who lives as if he is in a Cold War spy novel

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The Independent Online

I learnt yesterday that I belong to a select club: those who have been close enough to Mario Scaramella, the Italian KGB expert, since his now notorious lunch with Alexander Litvinenko at the Itsu sushi bar in London on 1 November, to require testing for radioactivity.

Because yesterday, in the latest twist in the poisoning saga, the world learnt the Italian is contaminated with polonium-210.

When I met him in the lobby of Rome's Termini station on 20 November, it was the first interview he had given to the Western press since being implicated in the Litvinenko case. He was clutching a large envelope with the name of a hospital in Rome printed on it. He had just returned, he said, from being tested for contamination by radioactive thallium. They had given him a clean bill of health.

Did he even then have reason to believe that he was contaminated? If so, he wasn't letting on - and even yesterday, as news of his positive test became known, he said reassuringly from London that he was in the clear.

He agreed to see me because I was the only British journalist who knew him personally. He was behind a story last year claiming the Soviets had laid 20 nuclear torpedoes on the seabed in the Bay of Naples. To follow the story up, I had lunch with him near the Pantheon in Rome.

Meeting Scaramella is like walking into the pages of a Cold War thriller. This time, post Itsu, he showed me e-mails from an ex-KGB agent called Limarev warning that he and Litvinenko were in danger. This, he said, was the reason for meeting Litvinenko - only Limarev has denied sending them. Yesterday, in London, Scaramella said he was unable to return to Italy yet as there was "a problem". He may be away some time.

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