PARIS — A high-profile attorney for the family of a murdered Russian journalist suggested Thursday that Russian provocateurs might have slipped small amounts of toxic mercury into her car in an attempt to intimidate her.
In a telephone interview with McClatchy from her home in Strasbourg, in northeastern France, Karinna Moskalenko implied that her role in representing the family of Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken reporter who was shot dead in 2006 after years of criticizing then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, may have motivated the attack.
"It is intimidation, and it was very certain that the way they intimidated me was very dangerous," Moskalenko said.
"I have no personal enemies and, if it is not personal, then it must be something else," she said. "Mechanisms of the state? I cannot exclude it."
Moskalenko said she fell ill last week a few days before her husband discovered strange globules of metal under the seats of the family car. Mercury is regularly used in thermometers and dentistry. In higher doses, it's poisonous.
French investigators said Thursday that the small amount of mercury from the car appeared to pose no serious danger to Moskalenko or her family. Christian Reeb, the chief criminal investigator for the Strasbourg Police, said that his department collected less than 1 gram of mercury, about half the amount used in a thermometer.
Investigators have yet to figure out how the toxic metal got into Moskalenko's car.
"There is no plausible explanation for the presence of this mercury," Reeb said.
Although the incident remains murky, it drew immediate comparisons to the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who suffered a slow, painful death in 2006 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210 in London.
British authorities accused a former KGB agent of killing Litvinenko. Russian authorities have rebuffed Britain's attempt to extradite the suspect for trial.
Politkovskaya was shot dead in her Russian apartment building a few weeks before Litvinenko was poisoned.
Moskalenko has been a constant critic of Putin and his government. One of her most prominent clients was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who's serving prison time for fraud.
Last year, in a case that was widely viewed as politically motivated, Russian prosecutors accused Moskalenko of failing to do her job representing Khodorkovsky and sought unsuccessfully to have her disbarred.
Moskalenko had been scheduled to fly to Moscow this week to represent Politkovskaya's family as three men accused of playing a role in the reporter's death go on trial.
Instead, she was recovering at home Thursday, though she declined to discuss her health.
In Moscow, the Russian judge who's overseeing the case rejected a request Wednesday to delay the hearing because of Moskalenko's poor health.
Moskalenko said she wouldn't let the incident stop her from traveling to Russia for the trial. "Russia for me is not more dangerous than staying in Strasbourg," she said. "If they want to assault me, they can do it effectively here or there."
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