A former Russian spy and fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin is fighting for his life in a London hospital after an apparent bid to kill him by poisoning, media reports said yesterday.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former lieutenant colonel in the Federal Security Service (FSB), fell ill after meeting at a London sushi bar a contact who purportedly had information on the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Mail on Sunday said yesterday.
Litvinenko, who was granted political asylum in Britain in 2001, fled to Britain after blowing the whistle on an alleged FSB plot to assassinate Russian business oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who is also now living in Britain.
He reportedly fell out with Putin when the now president was head of the FSB in the late 1990s -- Litvinenko was charged with tackling corruption but did not feel Putin was doing enough about it.
He subsequently wrote a book called The FSB Blows Up Russia, claiming that the agency was linked to a series of apartment building bombings in 1999 which killed around 300 people. The bombings, blamed at the time on Chechens, were one of the reasons then prime minister Putin sent Russian troops back into Chechnya, a popular war that propelled him into the presidency in 2000.
Litvinenko fell ill shortly after his appointment with the mysterious contact on Nov. 1, media reports said.
The Sunday Times said Litvinenko met a man at a restaurant, who said he had information on the death of Politkovskaya.
"I ordered lunch but he ate nothing," the paper quoted Litvinenko as saying. "He appeared to be very nervous."
"He handed me a four-page document which he said he wanted me to read right away," he said. "It contained a list of names of people, including FSB officers, who were purported to be connected with the journalist's murder."
But Litvinenko added he was not in a position to accuse Mario of involvement in the poisoning.
University College Hospital in London confirmed with the Mail that Litvinenko was in a "serious but stable" condition, adding that he was under armed guard and had only a 50 percent chance of survival.
He had kidney damage, was constantly vomiting and suffered an almost total loss of white blood cells, the Sunday Times added.
The paper said he had been poisoned with thallium and quoted a medical report which showed he had a potentially fatal dose.