Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning

Police officers stand outside the house of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal who was found critically ill Sunday following exposure to an “unknown substance” in Salisbury, England, Mar 6, 2018. (AP)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning

MOSCOW: Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent whose mysterious collapse in England sparked fears of a possible poisoning by Moscow, has been living in Britain since a high-profile spy swap in 2010.
Police were probing his exposure to an unknown substance, which left him unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury and saw media draw parallels to the case of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-spy who died of radioactive polonium poisoning in 2006.
But there are important differences between Litvinenko, who fled prosecution in Russia, and the man identified by British media as Skripal, who confessed to spying for London and was jailed before being pardoned and exchanged.
Skripal, 66, was an ex-military intelligence officer when he was detained in December 2004 near his home in Moscow.
He had been recruited by British intelligence while still an active officer with the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the 1990s.
His job for the British was to pass on information about the identities of undercover Russian intelligence agents in various European countries.
He had continued this task even after he stopped working for the Russian military in 1999, receiving information from his former colleagues, the FSB security service said at the time.
“The spy inflicted considerable damage to the defense capability and security of the state with his actions,” it said.

After working for the military, Skripal was employed with the Russian foreign ministry and later became an entrepreneur, according to reports.
In exchange for his work, MI6 made payments to him to a bank account in Spain, totalling over $100,000, Russian authorities said at the time.
Skripal faced up to 20 years in prison on a charge of state treason but was sentenced by a military tribunal to 13 years because of his cooperation with the investigation.
In July 2010, then-president Dmitry Medvedev signed a pardon for Skripal and three other Russians that were swapped with the United States.
These were Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko and Igor Sutyagin.
Zaporozhsky and Sutyagin were, like Skripal, serving sentences for state treason. Vasilenko, a former KGB agent, was serving a sentence for other crimes.
Ten Kremlin agents were expelled by Washington in the course of the exchange at Vienna airport on July 9, 2010.
By far the most high-profile of those ten agents was photogenic redhead Anna Chapman who led a very public life for some time after her return to Russia but later dropped off the radar.

The Kremlin on Tuesday said it had no information regarding Skripal’s collapse and would not even say whether he was still a Russian citizen.
Igor Sutyagin, who went to Britain following the swap together with Skripal, said they shared a bottle of whiskey on their 2010 flight over, but have not kept in touch.
“If it was a reprisal against Skripal, it is unclear why it took place,” Sutyagin told Svoboda radio.
“He confessed, was amnestied and had served part of his sentence, I don’t see a reason for revenge against him.”
If the incident was indeed foul play, “anybody could be behind it, including North Korea,” Sutyagin said, adding that the recent negative media coverage makes an attack by Russian security services particularly “ill-timed.”
Alexander Lugovoi, a prime suspect in the Litvinenko murder, dismissed suspicions of poisoning, calling them British “phobias” and saying Skripal was of no interest to authorities after his pardon and exchange.
“Security services had certain agreements,” he told Interfax news agency of the 2010 exchange. “To persecute somebody who is already pardoned is absurd.”


Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

Updated 3 min 26 sec ago
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Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

KOCHI, India: Torrential rain finally let up in India’s flood-hit Kerala state on Sunday, giving some respite for thousands of marooned families, but authorities feared an outbreak of disease among around 725,000 people crammed into relief camps.
Incessant downpours since Aug. 8 have caused the worst floods in a century in the southwestern state, and close to 200 people have perished in the rising waters and landslides.
The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall in only one or two parts of Kerala on Sunday and withdrew a red alert in several districts.
Using boats and helicopters, India’s military led rescue efforts to reach people in communities cut off for days, with many trapped on roofs and upper floors, in desperate need of food and clean water.
A Reuters photographer on a naval helicopter said water levels had receded in villages around the city of Kochi.
Rescue teams were focused on the town of Chengannur on the banks of the Pamba River, where about 5,000 people are feared to be trapped, officials said.
Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said the total number of people taking refuge at the 5,645 relief camps had risen to 725,000.
Thirteen deaths were reported on Sunday, he added, taking the total number confirmed to nearly 200.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, nearly 250 km (155 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
He said the department was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps.

DESTROYED
Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen more than 250 percent more rain than normal between Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. State authorities have had to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the main river.
As the rain abated on Sunday morning, 60-year-old T P Johnny visited his home in Cheranelloor — a suburb of Kochi situated on the banks of the Periyar river — to see when he and his family could return.
“The entire house is covered with mud. It will take days to clean to make it liveable. All our household articles, including the TV and fridge have been destroyed,” he told Reuters.
The beaches and backwaters of Kerala are top destinations for domestic and international tourists, but far fewer visit during the monsoon season.
Kochi’s airport is closed due to waterlogging, and Jet Airways has arranged additional flights from Thiruvananthapuram for passengers holding confirmed tickets from Kochi.
India’s national carrier, Air India, will operate ATR flights from the naval airport in Kochi to Bangalore and Coimbatore, starting Monday.
Late on Saturday, the chief minister had said that there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up before a local festival.
“The only problem is transporting it,” he told reporters. “The central government and public have cooperated well in this effort to fight this disaster.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, has also offered assistance to the state. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani has also announced $5 million aid.
($1 = 70.09 Indian rupees)