Exclusive: Sushi bar man is nuclear waste expertLast updated at 12:22pm on 26.11.06
The last person to meet Alexander Litvinenko before he succumbed to the agonising effects of radioactive poisoning is a self-professed expert in nuclear materials.
International 'security consultant' Mario Scaramella, who joined Litvinenko for the now infamous clandestine meeting in a London sushi bar, headed an organisation which tracked dumped nuclear waste, including Soviet nuclear missiles left over from the Cold War.
Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent who became a trenchant critic of President Putin's Russia, fell ill after the sushi lunch - as exclusively revealed by The Mail on Sunday last week - and died 22 days later from poisoning by Polonium, a radioactive substance derived from uranium.
Yesterday other customers of the sushi restaurant answered an appeal by health agencies for them to undergo medical checks. Some 200 worried members of the public came forward, also including customers of a Mayfair bar where Litvinenko held another meeting on the day he was poisoned.
Sources revealed last night that renegade Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky had also been checked for radiation. His car, in which he ferried the stricken Litvinenko to hospital, was also tested. It was further disclosed that the tycoon has been interviewed twice by police investigating Litvinenko's death, but not as a suspect.
Prof Scaramella has strongly denied any involvement in the murder and Litvinenko's family, who blame President Putin, say they do not question his loyalty. Having given an interview to The Mail on Sunday earlier in the week, Prof Scaramella yesterday said he was unwilling to say any more because he was 'co-operating with the authorities'. Earlier, he had acknowledged that 'something very strange is going on'.
Our investigations have established that:
• He has a deep knowledge of nuclear materials and their whereabouts around the globe.
• Although he describes himself as an environmentalist, he has detailed knowledge of the activities of Russian agents.
• Some of the institutions listed on his impressive CV appear to have no record of him, prompting questions about a career involving a large number of posts around the globe.
Prof Scaramella agreed to meet us in his home city of Naples to respond to allegations circulating on the internet that he was an intelligence agent in the pay of several secret services. Arriving in the lobby of a hotel flanked by two bodyguards, he produced a professional-looking dossier detailing his career.
As the meeting progressed, Prof Scaramella denied he had links to any secret services and became irritated. "You are sounding like the police,' he said. "Do not use this information against me."
Prof Scaramella's knowledge of atomic materials is clear, however. The Mail on Sunday has discovered that in June last year Italian police launched an investigation into an alleged plot to smuggle uranium into the country after being tipped off by Prof Scaramella.
He told officers that the uranium was hidden in a suitcase and had originated from an undisclosed country in the former Soviet Union. Within just 24 hours, police in Rimini made four arrests.
At the time all Prof Scaramella would say was: "I was investigating the activities of former KGB activities in San Marino <\[>a tiny independent republic near Rimini]
"I was also looking into the trafficking of arms from the former Soviet Union and possible links with Italian terrorist groups. During this I was passed a document that said there were former KGB men in San Marino looking at selling nuclear military material.
"I told the police that 10kg of uranium was hidden in a suitcase and on its way to Italy on June 2; and on June 2 the arrests were made and the uranium found. It was enriched uranium 90 per cent capable of making a small atomic bomb. Also an electronic target device was seized."
The uranium plot came a year after Prof Scaramella announced that he had information that 20 nuclear warheads had been lost by a Soviet submarine in the Bay of Naples.
Prof Scaramella told the Mitrokhin Commission, which investigated KGB activities in Italy, that he had been passed the information from Russian intelligence sources.
Scaramella told The Mail on Sunday that his career began in his hometown of Naples, where he qualified as a solicitor in 1995. He set up his own company, and started specialising in environmental law.
In 1996, Prof Scaramella, who is unmarried with two children, says he started work as a professor of environmental law at Externado University in Bogota, Colombia, before moving the following year to the University of Nuestra Senora del Rosario, also in Bogota. At the same time, between 1996 and 2000, he also held a post specialising in environmental crime at the University of Naples.
Between 2000 and 2002, Prof Scaramella was secretary general of a little-known organisation named the Environmental Crime Prevention Programme. The ECPP describes itself as an organisation which 'provides environmental protection and security through technology on a global basis'.
It has offices at the Fucino Space Centre in Italy to deploy 'aerial surveillance to detect environmental crimes in Eastern and Southern Europe'.
On its website, the ECPP described itself as a 'permanent intergovernmental conference' with a secretariat in Naples and rotating presidencies held by countries such as Angola and Samoa.
None of the contact details listed for the organisation on its website work. When Prof Scaramella was asked where the group's head office was he said there wasn't one - you had to contact the general secretary, who currently was a Professor Papadopoulos from California's San Jose university.
A Dr Perikles Papadopoulos - listed as an assistant secretary general of the organisation - could not be reached. And last night, neither the campaign group Greenpeace, nor the Environment Investigation Agency, which campaigns against environmental destruction, could recall working with the organisation.
In 2003 he made the jump from environmental expert to KGB specialist when he was appointed as a consultant to the Mitrokhin commission. It was that work which put him into contact with Litvinenko and led to the sushi lunch, which he says he arranged to discuss a 'death list' which named both him and Litvinenko
Prof Scaramella explained that Professor Papadopoulos was key to his appointment on to the Italian parliamentary commission, facilitating a meeting in London with Italian legal officials setting up the inquiry.
Italy was a nest of CIA and KGB agents during the Cold War: Washington regarded the socialist-leaning country as the West European country most susceptible to influence from Moscow.
Vasili Mitrokhin was a senior archivist for Russia's foreign intelligence service. His records of the period have led to inquiries across the globe, including the UK. One of the conclusions of the Italian inquiry was that the former Soviet Union was behind the assassination attempt on the late Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Prof Scaramella explained that he had been approached by the commission because his career had given him a passing connection to Russia. "My work involved a lot of Soviet issues - the dumping of radioactive waste, which can be detected from space, and the loss of nuclear devices,' he said.
"I said to them, "I am not an expert on security services, only nuclear waste." But the commission said they wanted people from outside to investigate. So in 2003 I looked at the operations of the KGB and Eastern bloc countries on Italian soil, including the funding of Italian journalists by the KGB."
In 2004, Prof Scaramella also led an investigation on the illegal dumping of waste by the mafia in an Italian lake. Despite being only a civilian environmental consultant, he led two armed police agents to a villa where the suspects lived. They were greeted by a hail of bullets. One mafioso was arrested, and an arms cache seized.
Scaramella also told us that he also found time in 1999 to become a visiting scientist at Stanford University in California, and was made director of a university Nato programme which involved visiting Lithuania.
In 2002, at the same time as he says he was completing his duties for the ECPP, he also started a school of national security in Colombia to train local police. The same year, he says he was also based for four months at Greenwich University in London, again working on environmental law.
It is hard to corroborate details of Scaramella's career.
A spokesman at the University of Naples said last night: "There is no record of a Professor Mario Scaramella working here. He may well have been hired internally as an independent working within one of the faculties but our system has no record of him."
And Dr Maria Scaramella, a namesake at the university, said: "I used to get all this post for him but I could never actually find him. He was supposed to have an office on the third floor but I was never able to find it. He was supposed to have some sort of European funding for research but I never knew exactly what."
A spokesman for Greenwich University also said they had no record of him on its books.
None of the American or Colombian universities responded to messages asking whether Prof Scaramella had worked for them.
Internet discussion forums have buzzed with theories about Prof Scaramella this week - the most damaging claiming that he is a secret service operative with split loyalties who uses a range of political and business interests as a front for his activities. But he insisted: "I have never been to any security service headquarters or met any acting officers."
Prof Scaramella says he struck up an association with Litvinenko during his work for the Mitrokhin Commission, and they had met several times before in the Itsu restaurant to discuss intelligence matters.
He claimed that tip-off from Litvinenko had helped to foil a bizarre assassination attempt last year on Paolo Guzzanti, an Italian senator who headed the Mitrokhin inquiry. It led to the arrest of six Ukrainians who were said to have been trying to smuggle grenades into the country hidden inside hollowed-out Bibles.
"He was my friend - that is why he gave me this,' he said, brandishing a picture of Litvinenko training as a young KGB officer.
Even Prof Scaramella's father, Amedeo, was perplexed about his son's career. "I think it's best you talk to Mario,' he said. "I don't really want to say anything. He divides his time between Naples and Rome and he also spends a lot of time overseas. I don't ask too many questions."
Prof Scaramella said: "I am not willing to say anything else. I am co-operating with the authorities. If you want any information ask Scotland Yard."
Here's a sample of the latest views published. You can click view all to read all views that readers have sent in.
They were both targets, I would guess.
- Kimmo Peltonen, Helsinki, Finland
Was Mario Scaramella the target? E.g. did they get the wrong man?
- Ian, Cambridge, England
I don't believe any of this. Our politics are getting like the Lebanon - anyone could have murdered this guy just as anyone - friend or foe - could have murdered the Lebanese politician.
One thing I do know. The British are getting far too involved with Russian gangsters.
Its all about oil. Russia has lots of it
- John, Somerset, England