How one man insinuated himself into poisoning case
Mario Scaramella was the last person to meet with the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko before the Russian was hospitalized for, and later died from, polonium 210 poisoning. They had had lunch together at a London sushi bar on Nov. 1.
Scaramella, too, was contaminated by the radioactive substance, and as a result gained world attention — as either a possible accomplice to a crime or an intended victim.
As it turns out, he was probably neither. But there's more to the story.
Scaramella had been portrayed in the news media as an "Italian academic" with teaching positions at Stanford University in California; Greenwich University in London and the University of Naples, and as a top executive of a UN-related intergovernmental program called the Environmental Crime Prevention Program, or ECPP.
He had arranged his meeting with Litvinenko purportedly to share secret information he had collected on the killing of a Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, and on potential threats to Litvinenko's life, his own life and that of Paolo Guzzanti, the president of the Italian Parliamentary Commission investigating KGB activities in Italy. The commission had hired Scaramella as a consultant, but had disbanded before the November meeting.
On Christmas Eve, Scaramella was arrested by the Italian police as he stepped back onto his home soil after a flight from London. The arrest had nothing to do with Litvinenko's death. Rather, Scaramella was accused by Pietro Saviotti, a Rome prosecutor, of being involved in shipments of arms intended, bizarrely, for an attempt on his own life and that of Senator Guzzanti.
Scaramella is alleged to have organized the shipment to gain credibility as someone with access to sensitive information on Russian and Ukrainian intelligence activities in Western Europe.
A monthlong investigation in cooperation with the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore shows that a close associate of Scaramella's has worked with figures in the intelligence community. But the intrigue over espionage seems to stop there. Scaramella is probably best described, according to people who have dealt with him, as simply a world class self-promoter with an uncanny ability to get himself attention, and even money and positions, from governmental and world agencies.
According to various documents and interviews, Scaramella managed over 17 years to persuade institutions such as the Italian Anti-Mafia Commission, the Italian Parliament, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union and NATO to provide funds and legitimacy to organizations he created. He apparently succeeded because he was supported by a number scientists, administrators and politicians, perhaps because of their naïveté or for personal gain.
The investigation also points to evidence of a connection with the CIA through Filippo Marino, an Italian- born security consultant who is one of Scaramella's closest partners since the early 1990s and the co-founder of the ECPP. Marino, now living in the United States, acknowledged in a telephone interview an association with a number of former and active CIA officers, including Robert Lady, who is now under indictment in Italy for having coordinated the rendition of the Egyptian exile Abu Omar on Feb. 17, 2003.
Scaramella seems to have begun his rise in March 1989, when, at age 19, he founded what he called an "environmental police force" with eight young associates.
With a written recommendation from a family friend who worked in the National Anti-Mafia Commission, he managed to obtain a gun license, according to court records.
Then, with an ID that identified him as a fishing/hunting guard, Scaramella introduced himself as "Inspector Scaramella" to two assistant district attorneys in a small municipality outside his home town of Naples. According to court records, Scaramella said he needed their support for his policing activities.
"He had grown a long beard to hide his youth and nobody could imagine that he wasn't for real," Roberto De Falco, the judge who would later convict him, recalled.
Scaramella was assigned a police squad and started seizing properties and assets for a host of environmental crimes. For a year and half, he went from sealing public bathrooms in Capri to seizing a clandestine horse track controlled by a powerful local Mafia boss.
In June 1991, a Carabinieri official grew suspicious after noticing that Scaramella would never sign any paperwork. He was then indicted and found guilty of impersonating a police officer and ordered to pay a fine.
A year later, however, the verdict was reversed on appeal. The appeals court found that the term he had used, "inspector," did not necessarily indicate a police inspector.