News Brief

What do an Italian model and a Russian defector have in common? Perhaps poison

What do an Italian model and a Russian defector have in common?

Perhaps poison.

At least that’s what Kremlin critics are saying as Italian investigators look into the suspicious death of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old model who until her death was better known in Italy as the woman who testified against the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and helped send him to prison.

Fadil died on March 1 after a month in a Milan hospital. Francesco Greco, a prosecutor in Milan, told a press conference on Monday that pathologists found heavy metals cadmium and antimony in her blood at levels seven times higher than normal.

Italian media have also reported Fadil may have been exposed to radioactive substances, and that doctors conducting the postmortem are working with a specialist unit of the Italian fire service so as to avoid possible exposure.

Initial results suggest that the model could have been poisoned, in a troubling echo of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia – and Russia’s adversaries have been quick to suggest that the possible poisoning may be the result of Italy following the Kremlin’s playbook from Salisbury, England.

In a tweet about the poisoning, Bill Browder, the American financier who is a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin highlighted Berlusconi’s close friendship with the Russian leader as a link between the two events.

The controversy comes on the heels of an unusual Italian media campaign in support of the Kremlin.

In recent months, powerful voices within Italian state media have denied proof of the Skripal assasination attempt. In October, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report on links between Italian state media and Russian information networks. The report focused primarily on two of Italy’s national public broadcaster’s new board members, Giampaolo Rossi and Marcello Foa, who frequently amplify the Italian government’s pro-Russian stance and have worked to cast doubt on the Skripal poisonings.

In April 2018, Rossi wrote a blog post for Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale, denying Russian involvement in the attempted murder, calling the media response “an irrational anti-Russian hysteria that now characterizes the West.”

Russian media have now published articles distancing Mr. Berlusconi from Fadil, who was a key witness in a 2012 trial investigating the former leader’s “bunga bunga” parties with women. Sputnik news, a Kremlin-backed Russian news service, was among the media outlets to come to Berlusconi’s defense as the story broke of the model’s poisoning.

“Berlusconi Says He ‘Never Met’ Dead Model Who Testified Against Him in Sex Trial’, a Sputnik headline ran on Saturday, quoting the former prime minister’s opinion of Fadil’s 2012 testimony as “invented and absurd.”