Russian-Israeli model denies hoax in English spy poisoning saga

Anna Shapiro prompted security alert when she claimed she and husband targeted by Moscow in same city where Russia allegedly used nerve agent Novichok

Anna Shapiro and Alex King, in a photo posted on Instagram in 2015 (Anna Shapiro / Instagram)
Anna Shapiro and Alex King, in a photo posted on Instagram in 2015 (Anna Shapiro / Instagram)

A Russian model with Israeli citizenship who claimed she and her husband were poisoned by Russia in an English restaurant has denied that the claim was a hoax.

Anna Shapiro and her husband Alex King prompted a major British security alert Sunday when they claimed they had fallen ill at a Prezzo restaurant in the city of Salisbury, where Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were taken ill in March after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent. The Skripals collapsed as Zizzi’s, another Italian restaurant nearby.

But Shapiro and King were later discharged from the local hospital and the Wiltshire Police force said they “were not exposed to any kind of nerve agent.”

“Alex is in a bad way. He has headaches and a slipped disc,” Shapiro insisted to The Sun on Saturday. “We are at his doctor now speaking about it.”

The incident set nerves on edge in the English city. Roads around the Prezzo restaurant were cordoned off as medics in protective suits investigated.

British officials blame the Russian government for the March attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Moscow denies it. Two local people later came into contact with the nerve agent, one of whom, Dawn Sturgess, died.

Shapiro’s lawyers dismissed media reports that her story was a hoax.

She had insisted to The Sun on Tuesday that Moscow poisoned her and her husband in the restaurant.

Shapiro claimed she is the daughter of a Russian general, and said she believed she had been targeted because she had left Russia and was believed by the Russian authorities to be a spy. She said she had previously received death threats.

The paper claimed that “security sources” suspected the couple were the victims of a “rat poison attack.”

But on Friday, the BBC reported that a police source had said the possibility of a hoax was being investigated and that the two had been interviewed by Wiltshire Police.

Emergency services personnel stand near the Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury, England, where police closed roads as a “precautionary measure” after two people were said to be taken ill, Sunday Sept. 16, 2018. Police closed roads and called a hazardous response team in the English city where a Russian ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with a chemical nerve agent in March. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

“There has been some media speculation that our client may have participated in an elaborate hoax as regards her fear of her husband’s poisoning,” her lawyers said. “She was not involved in any hoax and… her fears were genuine, both as to the poisoning and her suspicion of foul play.”

British media has reported that Alex King carried out a “prank” on Charles, the Prince of Wales at a film premiere in 2006, when he slipped into an official line-up of stars being greeted by the prince. Interviewed by the media about it, he claimed the prank was part of a £100,000 bet.

The Daily Mail reported Friday that Shapiro “became an Israeli citizen against her father’s wishes in 2006.”

The Daily Mirror said she had “told friends recently that she was a ‘honeytrap spy’ tasked with seducing men for Israeli spy agency Mossad.”

The Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury has since reopened. Its owners have threatened legal action against Shapiro and King.

Britain has alleged that two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, attempted to kill the Skripals. The two acknowledged being in Salisbury, but said they were merely visiting as tourists — an assertion derided by the British government.

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