British police are investigating claims that a former Russian spy, Aleksander Litvinenko, has been poisoned, possibly with a deadly chemical. An outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Litvinenko defected to Britain six years ago. He fell ill earlier this month after meeting a contact in a restaurant in London, while looking into the murder of an investigative journalist in Russia. Reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who had criticised Kremlin policy in Chechnya, was shot dead by an unknown gunman in her apartment building in the Russian capital on October 7.
The chemical, thallium, attacks the nervous system, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys and has been nicknamed “inheritance powder”. Litvinenko is reportedly fighting for his life and a close friend, Alex Goldfarb, said the doctors have told him his chances of survival are 50/50: “When I saw him, I thought, they finally got him. As they have been threatening for the past seven years, when he started irritating the Russian government and the Russian secret services.” Britain’s newspapers have speculated that he fell foul of the regime in Russia, in a case which echos that of Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko, who became ill after dining with security service leaders in 2004.