Lawyer suspects mercury poisoning

A Russian lawyer said Wednesday she suspects she and her family were poisoned by mercury found in her car, keeping her away from the start of the trial of three men accused in the slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Karinna Moskalenko, who has represented several Kremlin foes and is a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, told The Associated Press she and her husband found balls of mercury in their car Sunday in Strasbourg, France. She said it may have been an attempt to frighten her, but that it was unclear whether there was a link to the Politkovskaya murder trial.

“Somebody put it there, but I don't know who could have done it or what aims they were pursuing,” Moskalenko said by telephone from Strasbourg, where she helps Russians take claims against the authorities to the European Court of Human Rights.

Several Russians who have criticized or angered the Kremlin – including Politkovskaya – have been victims of alleged poisoning attacks in recent years.

Former KGB officer and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko died in Britain in 2006 after ingesting radioactive polonium 210, weeks after Politkovskaya was gunned down.

Moskalenko said she and her three children were feeling ill, and that one daughter had a temperature of 104 degrees. Ekho Moskvy radio quoted her as saying Tuesday that she and her children had experienced headaches, dizziness and nausea in recent days and had undergone tests at a hospital, receiving a preliminary diagnosis of poisoning.

Colleagues and human rights groups said the incident was likely meant to intimidate Moskalenko.

“Karinna Moskalenko's poisoning is causing a great deal of anxiety and shock,” said Anna Stavitskaya, who is also representing Politkovskaya's family. “Everyone – including me – thinks it is connected with her professional activity, as she is involved in several big cases.”

A police official in Strasbourg confirmed the discovery of balls of mercury in Moskalenko's family car. The official said laboratory analyses found the mercury was not potent enough to cause injury or death, but the balls' mercury levels could have been greater prior to being shown to police.