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The first web2.0 spanish blog about Maritime Affairs. El primer blog web2.0 español sobre el sector marítimo.

Ponomarev's death and Litvinenko

The death of my friend Igor Ponomarev, Chairman of the MSC and tipped to be a future head of the IMO, had similarities to the murder by radiation poisoning of a former KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko. Neil McAlister reports on allegations surfacing in Moscow.

THE German news magazine Focus has alleged that the day after IMO official Igor Ponomarev’s death on 30 October last year, he had planned to see the same contact that Alexander Litvinenko saw on 1 November, the day he was poisoned with polonium derived from uranium.

When Fairplay challenged Focus about its source, the magazine said its Moscow correspondent Boris Reitschuster claimed that the revelation that came from relatives of Igor Ponomarev.

Reitschuster reported relatives had claimed that Ponomarev, 41, suffered pangs of thirst before he died and had drunk three litres of water. Thirst is consistent with poisoning by radioactive thalium, the substance that was at first believed to have killed former Russian security agent Litvinenko.

The source of Focus’s claims remains Reitschuster’s closely guarded secret, but are thought to involve two very prominent civil rights leaders in Russia who might be related to Ponomarev, who was a former Russian ambassador to the International Maritime Organization. One of the two activists recently contributed news to Focus about the G8 summit.

Ponomarev’s contact man was Mario Scaramella, an Italian academic known in the maritime industry for his efforts to pinpoint the location of nuclear materials and waste.

Whatever the doubts about his academic qualifications and his links to the Italian and Russian secret services, Scaramella is respected by many for his knowledge of nuclear dumping.

Scaramella has attended many meetings of the London Convention, which concerns itself with the dumping at sea of land-originated wastes.
Deal with arms supplier

He reportedly told delegates to the convention on 30 October that he had signed a deal with a Russian state arms manufacturer as part of his probe into the illegal dumping of radioactive material. Was that the reason why Ponomarev had arranged to meet him?

But who would want to kill this hard-working, popular maritime diplomat? Ponomarev would have been interested in nuclear dumping issues; in 2005 the former naval architect was unanimously elected chairman of the Maritime Safety Committee and was tipped as a future head of the IMO.

Scaramella is no longer suspected by Scotland Yard of causing the death of Litvinenko. Instead the British police are to present a report to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service about two Russian contacts who met Litvinenko on the day he fell ill: former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi and retired military officer Dmitry Kovtun.

Scaramella himself wrote in an email to the dying Litvinenko that it was “an incredible coincidence” that he was scheduled to meet Ponomarev at the IMO just before their own meeting.

The Russian authorities declared that Ponomarov’s death on 30 October was due to a heart attack. But they rushed the IMO diplomat’s body back to Moscow without an autopsy being conducted in the UK. Reitschuster reports that no autopsy was conducted in Moscow either.

Delegates to the meetings of the London Convention took Scaramella and his detective work very seriously. Although the convention is not part of the IMO, the UN body regularly supplies secretarial services and the venue for its meetings.

Scaramella has since got into difficulties for his apparent efforts to find out more about Russian dumping. Rome prosecutors are understood to be investigating him on suspicion of violating state secrets and arms trafficking.

TIMELINE: Russian cloak and dagger

30.10.2006: Ponomarev collapses at home after a night at the opera and died. His body is rapidly returned to Moscow.

31.10.2006: Ponomarev was due to meet Mario Scaramella, according to Scaramella himself and Focus’s informants. The IMO denies any knowledge of the appointment.

1.11.2006: Alexander Litvinenko meets two Russian contacts – one a former KGB officer. He meets Scaramella at a sushi bar in Picadilly. The same day he is poisoned.

6.11.2006: Scaramella sends an email to Litvinenko recording that he had been scheduled to meet Ponomarev “at International Maritime Organization” on 30 October. The email is later forwarded to British Euro MP Gerard Batten.

23.11.2006: Litvinenko dies.

24.11.2006: A statement written by Litvinenko accuses President Putin of involvement with his death. Health experts say they now believe Litvinenko was poisoned by radioactive matter, believed to be polonium 210.

19.12.2006: The first of seven members of staff at the Sheraton Hotel, where one of the Russian contacts was known to have stayed, is found to be contaminated with polonium. A second Russian contact is being investigated by German police after traces of polonium are found at properties the contact had used in Hamburg.

7.1.2007: The German newsmagazine Focus publishes a report that Ponomarev died only two days before Litvinenko’s poisoning, and that the day following his death he had been due to meet Scaramella. It bases its report on statements by “relatives” of Igor Ponomarev and claims he had been suffering from extreme thirst just before his death.

8.1.2007: The Sun newspaper in Britain publishes an account similar to Focus, describing the informants as ‘pals’ of Litvinenko.

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