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Conspiracy theories are circulating after the deaths of three Russians in India

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A Russian citizen was found dead today in eastern India. Normally that wouldn't make international headlines, but this is the third Russian to be found dead in the same part of India in a span of less than two weeks. That's prompted questions about whether the deaths are a tragic coincidence or possibly something more sinister. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai that the story began right around Christmas.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two Russians were found dead in a span of four days in the same hotel.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Breathless reports have been airing on Indian TV for the past 10 days with details straight out of a spy novel - mysterious deaths of Russian citizens days apart in a relatively poor part of eastern India. One of the victims was a multimillionaire sausage magnate and Russian lawmaker named Pavel Antov. He reportedly...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Had earlier this year briefly put out a message that was critical of the war in Ukraine.

FRAYER: The message was later deleted, and he posted support for Vladimir Putin. But right around Christmas, he turned up in the news in India. He'd apparently fallen to his death from a third-story hotel window in the Indian state of Odisha. Police said he was on vacation there. But Odisha is far from sites most popular with foreign tourists. Around the same time, one of Antov's traveling companions, a fellow Russian, was found dead in the same hotel. Afterward, the medical examiner told Indian TV...

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UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: In that case, viscera has not been preserved.

FRAYER: ...That the bodies had already been cremated, no evidence retained. Indian authorities have provided scant detail. They even blocked journalists from visiting the hotel where Antov and his friend died. That has fuelled speculation since Russia does have a track record of assassinating dissidents. Asked about all of this at a foreign ministry briefing, an Indian government spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, called the Russian deaths unfortunate.

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ARINDAM BAGCHI: And we need to figure out what exactly are the details. But this is for the - it's a police matter, so I don't want to jump that gun.

FRAYER: He declined to comment further. Today police had another matter to deal with, though - another Russian body, that of a 51-year-old engineer found dead this morning in his sleeping compartment on the commercial ship where he worked. It was docked in an Indian port in the same eastern part of the country, Odisha. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF HALEY SMALLS SONG, "UNDECIDED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.