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MOSCOW: A Russian tabloid on Thursday published what it said was an audio recording of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned along with his daughter in Britain last year.

The Skripals were discovered unconscious in the English town of Salisbury in March 2018 after they were poisoned by what investigators said was a highly toxic nerve agent.

UK authorities say the Skripals recovered from the attack and are kept in a secret location under the protection of the British state.

The popular Moskovsky Komsomolets daily published the 30-second recording on its website, saying it was the voice of the former double agent talking to his Russia-based niece, Viktoria Skripal.

If authentic, the audio would be the first the outside world has heard from the former spy since the attack in the English city of Salisbury that sparked a diplomatic crisis between Moscow and London.

While his daughter Yulia Skripal released a video statement last May, calling for her family’s privacy to be respected, her father has not addressed the media and his whereabouts are unknown.

But Viktoria Skripal has given frequent interviews to Russian press and TV.

The Russian tabloid said Skripal called his niece to wish her well on May 9, the day Russia celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany, and left a message on the voicemail.

“Everything is fine with me, with us, with Yulechka [diminutive for Yulia] also,” the male voice in the recording is heard saying. “I wanted to know how you are.”

“Phone calls between Sergei Skripal and his family are a private matter,” a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said.

It was “disturbing that their privacy appears to have been abused in this way,” the spokesperson added.

The mass circulation daily claimed it was the second time Skripal had contacted his relative, who lives in Yaroslavl, a city northeast of Moscow.

He first called his relatives, the paper said, after Viktoria’s husband was beaten, allegedly after a man had insulted her for being related to a defector, in April.

After the attack, the British government said the military grade nerve agent was produced in Russia and the attempted assassination was “almost certainly” appr­o­ved by the Russian state.

Moscow has denied involvement.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019