A major review has today revealed how Russian spies killed the ex-KGB dissident Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen, by slipping radioactive polonium 210 into his teapot at a Mayfair hotel in central London in 2006.
His widow Marina today declared her husband vindicated after a public inquiry found Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘probably’ ordered his assassination by FSB agents on the streets of London.
Linking the state-sponsored assassination, which followed a long-running personal feud between the two men, directly back to the President Putin prompted Russia’s ambassador to make accusations of a ‘whitewash’ by an ‘incompetent’ British state.
Mrs Litvinenko, speaking on the steps of the High Court today, called for the expulsion of all Russian spies from London following the public inquiry
Alexander Litvinenko, pictured shortly before his 2006 death, accused the Russian president of implication in his killing while on his death bed in London
Sir Robert’s inquiry revealed the teapot, pictured, into which the assassins placed the radioactive material which killed Mr Litvinenko three weeks later. Sir Robert said he was ‘sure’ the assassins had placed the material into the teapot knowing it would kill Litvinenko
A report by Chairman Sir Robert Owen today concluded Mr Putin ‘probably’ approved the assassination. Revealing his findings, he was ‘sure’ placed the polonium ‘into the teapot’.
In his extraordinary 320 page report, Sir Robert found:
‘The chairman… found as a fact that both Vladimir Putin and Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB at the time, personally approved the assassination’
Marina Litvinenko, on the steps of the High Court today
- Mr Litvinenko died from acute radiation syndrome on November 23, three weeks after drinking tea containing polonium 210 in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in London on November 1 2006.
- The former spy was deliberately poisoned by others – namely Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun.
- The pair had tried to poison Mr Litvinenko almost a month earlier at a London office of multinational security company Erinys.
- Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun were acting on behalf of others when they poisoned Mr Litvinenko. They knew they were using a deadly poison, but did not know precisely which chemical.
- It is a strong probability that Mr Lugovoi poisoned Mr Litvinenko under the direction of Moscow’s FSB intelligence service. Mr Kovtun was also acting under FSB direction, possibly indirectly through Mr Lugovoi but probably to his knowledge.
- The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by then-FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev and also by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Following the publication of report, Mrs Litvinenko said: ‘The chairman found as a fact and to a high degree of probability that the FSB directed Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun to murder Sasha and also found as a fact that both Vladimir Putin and Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB at the time, personally approved the assassination.’
She told waiting journalists outside the High Court that Mr Cameron should now expel all Russian agents from London and impose economic sanctions on Russia.
She continued: ‘I’m, of course, very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr Putin of his murder have been proved true in an English court with the high standards of independency (sic) and fairness.
‘But now it is time for David Cameron. I’m calling immediately for expulsion from the UK of all Russian intelligence operatives … based at the London embassy.
‘I’m also calling for the position of targeted economic sanctions and travel bans against named individuals including Mr Patrushev and Mr Putin.’
Home Secretary Theresa May said the findings were ‘deeply disturbing’ and adding it was a ‘blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenents of international law’.
But she warned: ‘But we have to accept this does not come as a surprise.’
Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, summoned to meet Europe Minister David Lidington, said: ‘I told him we consider the Litvinenko case and the way it was disposed of a blatant provocation of the British authorities.
‘Second, we will never accept anything arrived at in secret and based on evidence not heard in open court of law.
‘Third, the length of time it took to close this case in this way makes us believe it to be a whitewash of the British special services incompetence.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to meet Europe Minister David Lidington at the Foreign Office following the report. Mr Yakovenko, pictured left following the talks, told Mr Lidington the report’s findings were ‘unacceptable’
‘Fourth, we noticed the British government suspended the coroners inquest which was open for public and media and where the investigative committee in Russia took part as an interested person, in favour of a public inquiry in secret, at the height of concern over Russia and Ukraine in 2014.
‘We view it as an attempt to put additional pressure on Russia in connection with existing differences on international issues.
‘Fifth, for us it is unacceptable the report concludes the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr Litvinenko on British soil.’
Mr Yakovenko said the row would inevitably hit British-Russian relations.
Earlier, the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman today said Britain had expelled four Russian diplomats over the killing in 2007, suspended talks on a bilateral visa regime and distanced British links with the FSB.
In the year’s since, diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia have eased – particularly following the bombing of a Russian airliner by ISIS.
Mr Cameron has met with President Putin several times as Prime Minister – including at the Sochi Winter Olympics and in Downing Street.
Russia’s ambassador will be summoned to the Foreign Office today and be told of the Government’s continued outrage at the murder.
The Litvinenko family lawyer today indicated such moves would not be enough, telling a press conference a failure to take significant action over ‘nuclear terrorism’ on the streets of London would be ‘craven’ and an ‘abdication of responsibility’.
Ben Emmerson QC said a judicial process had now linked President Vladimir Putin and the Moscow authorities to the murder of the dissident in 2006.
At a press conference following the report’s publication today, Mrs Litvinenko and her son Anatoly demanded action from the British government against Russia
Theresa May, speaking in the Commons today following the report publication, said the Russian Ambassador would be summoned to the Foreign Office
He said: ‘The responsibility now that lies on Government is to act in a way that shows determination and the requisite degree of courage,’ he told a press conference after the publication of Sir Robert Owen’s inquiry into the former spy’s death.
‘It would be craven for the Government, for the Prime Minister, to do nothing in response.
‘It would be an abdication of his responsibility to do the thing which, after all, is the first function of a state, which is to keep its people safe.’
Sir Robert found Lugovoi and Kovtun has made an earlier attempt to poison Mr Litvinenko, also using polonium 210, at a meeting in London on October 16 – a fortnight before he ingested the fatal dose, the report found.
It said the pair then placed the substance in a teapot at the Millennium Hotel’s Pine Bar on November 1, 2006.
They left a radioactive trail in a number of locations around the capital, including a hotel sink where they deposited leftover polonium.
The revelation that Litvinenko, a father-of-three, had been poisoned with a radioactive substance triggered a major security alert following his death.
Alex Goldfarb, a close friend of Mr Litvinenko, today said: ‘I think it is a very proper and fair finding, because nobody in the Russian hierarchy would dare to order such a murder without Mr Putin’s approval.
‘The finding is an ultimate justice. As you remember, on his death-bed Sasha Litvinenko named Mr Putin as the person responsible for this poisoning and now it has become a legally established fact.’
In an interview with the Interfax news agency, Lugovoi called the charges against him ‘absurd.’
‘As we expected, there was no sensation,’ he said. ‘The results of the investigation that were announced today once again confirm London’s anti-Russian position and the blinkered view and unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko’s death.’
In a statement released from his deathbed in 2006, her husband had said: ‘You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
‘May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.’
Sir Robert’s 300-page report said Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun were probably acting under the direction of Moscow’s FSB intelligence service when they poisoned the 43-year-old with radioactive polonium 210 at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.
Today’s public inquiry concluded Andrei Lugovoi, left, and Dmitry Kovtun, right, did kill Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium in London – probably on the orders of President Putin
David Cameron could face a fresh diplomatic row with Vladimir Putin if Russia refuses to extradite alleged assassins Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun.
Singling out then-FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev alongside Mr Putin, Sir Robert wrote: ‘Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.’
‘MAY GOD FORGIVE YOU FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE’: LITVINENKO BLAMED PUTIN ON HIS DEATHBED
Mr Litvinenko, pictured in 2002
Alexander Litvinenko levelled his accusations against President Putin and the Kremlin when he knew he was going to die.
Speaking from this death bed, he said: ‘I would like to thank many people. My doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are doing all they can for me, the British police who are pursuing my case with vigour and professionalism and are watching over me and my family.
‘I would like to thank the British government for taking me under their care. I am honoured to be a British citizen.
‘I would like to thank the British public for their messages of support and for the interest they have shown in my plight.
‘I thank my wife Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.
‘But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like.
‘I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.
‘You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
‘You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
‘You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
‘You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
‘May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.’
In his report, Sir Robert wrote: ‘I am sure that Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun knew that they were using a deadly poison and that they intended to kill Mr Litvinenko.
‘I do not believe, however, that they knew precisely what the chemical they were handling was, or the nature of all its properties.’
He continued: ‘I am sure that Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun were acting on behalf of others when they poisoned Mr Litvinenko.’
When Lugovoi poisoned Mr Litvinenko, it is ‘probable’ that he did so under the direction of the FSB, the report found.
Sir Robert said Kovtun also took part, adding: ‘I conclude therefore that he was also acting under FSB direction, possibly indirectly through Mr Lugovoi but probably to his knowledge.’
The Metropolitan Police today said it still had warrants out for the two men accused of the killing.
The murder came against a backdrop of a long running personal feud between Putin and Mr Litvinenko.
Mr Litvinenko made a string of personal attacks on the Russian leader in the years after their only face to face meeting in 1998.
The most dramatic allegation came in an article Litvinenko wrote in July 2006 accusing President Putin of paedophilia.
Just days before he fell ill, Litvinenko accused Mr Putin of responsibility for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The report said there was ‘undoubtedly a personal dimension to antagonism’ between the two men.
The inquiry was told Litvinenko became involved with MI6 after arriving in Britain, receiving regular payments for consultancy work.
The final report said: ‘It may not take much imagination to consider how the FSB would have reacted to a report that one of its own former officers was working with British intelligence.’
Mr Cameron will face growing calls to impose sanctions on high-profile individuals in Russia if the Kremlin refuses to extradite Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, the alleged assassins.
Downing Street had no immediate comment on the report, but confirmed Home Secretary Theresa May will be giving the Government’s response in an oral statement to the House of Commons in the next few hours.
Liberal Democrats called for travel bans and the freezing of assets for those involved in the death of Mr Litvinenko.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: ‘A UK citizen was killed on the streets of London with polonium. It was an attack on the heart of Britain, our values and our society.
‘I call for EU travel bans, asset freezes and co-ordinated action to deal with those who committed this evil assassination. I have called for a new Magnitsky Law to make sure that these people are held to account for what they did.
‘These assassins trampled over British sovereignty and we cannot let this go unanswered.’
There is overwhelming evidence linking the pair to the murder but both deny any involvement and Russian President Mr Putin has so far refused to extradite them.
The death of Litvinenko marked a post-Cold War low point in Anglo-Russian relations, and ties have never recovered.
The Foreign Office is eager to avoid a full-blown row, partly because Mr Putin’s cooperation is badly needed in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.
Mrs Litvinenko arrived at the High Court today with her son Anatoly Litvinenko to hear the results of the public inquiry into her husband’s death
In 2011, Mrs Litvinenko and her son marked five years since the death of Mr Litvinenko at his graveside in Highgate Cemetery, North London
Litvinenko’s wife Marina, who has led a ten-year campaign for justice, believes sanctions should be imposed.
She said: ‘If proved, particularly in an official way in a court, you definitely need to react.
‘They still survive. They are able to travel. I think there should be a very serious discussion about what kind of sanctions and against whom.’
Mrs Litvinenko, 52, is certain that vital information has been suppressed by Moscow.
She said: ‘Both Lugovoy and Kovtun had plenty of opportunities to present their case. It is a shame that the opportunity was not there to question them.
‘They could have been questioned about: if they did it. Did they do it by themselves? Who sent them to do it? How did they obtain that polonium?
‘Why was it that a weapon of mass destruction was used to carry out a murder in Britain?
‘Questions have been raised about Mr Putin [that] he needs to answer.
‘He gave Lugovoy an honour, he made him an MP, he made him a TV star.
‘He obviously appreciated Lugovoy’s activities.’
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said those responsible for Litvinenko’s murder should be subject to a ban on travelling to the UK and excluded from the British banking system.
‘By poisoning one of their own on British soil, the Russian government completely disregarded the rule of law both within the UK and internationally,’ he said.
Litvinenko, 43, a fierce critic of Mr Putin, was given polonium in a cup of green tea during a meeting at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.
It took him three weeks to die.
He had been working with MI6 and other agencies in the UK.
Last night Mr Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin had no interest in the findings of Sir Robert’s inquiry.
Dmitry Peskov said: ‘It is an inquiry that is taking place in Great Britain and in this case it is not a topic that is of interest to us, or that is on our agenda.’
ECHOES OF THE COLD WAR: TIMELINE OF THE KILLING OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO AND THE INVESTIGATION INTO HIS SHOCKING DEATH
1998 – Alexander Litvinenko claims at a Moscow press hearing that the FSB – the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation – instructed him to kill high-profile billionaire Boris Berezovsky.
1999 – Mr Litvinenko is arrested and spends nine months in jail.
2000 – Mr Litvinenko flees Russia and seeks political asylum in Britain – it is granted the following year.
2002 – Mr Litvinenko co-writes a book, in which he accuses his former FSB superiors of carrying out a number of apartment block bombings in 1999.
November 1 2006 – Mr Litvinenko meets Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun at the Millennium hotel in London’s Mayfair. Mr Litvinenko is admitted to a hospital in north London several hours later
November 17 2006 – His condition deteriorates and he is transferred to University College Hospital in central London.
November 21 2006 – The Kremlin dismisses as ‘sheer nonsense’ claims that the Russian government was involved in the poisoning.
November 23 – Mr Litvinenko dies in intensive care.
November 24 – Mr Litvinenko’s family releases a statement, accusing Russian president Vladimir Putin of involvement in his death.
May 2007 – The CPS announces its decision to prosecute Lugovoi for murder.
July 2007 – Moscow refuses an extradition request for Lugovoi.
July 2014 – The Home Secretary announces that Sir Robert Owen is to chair a public inquiry into Mr Litvinenko’s death.
January 2015 -The inquiry opens and takes evidence for seven months
January 21 2016 – Sir Robert’s report is published.
It’s a breach of international law says Theresa May – but Britain WON’T be kicking out all Russia’s spies as the family demands
Home Secretary, pictured at the despatch box today, told MPs the findings of the inquiry were not surprising
Home Secretary Theresa May today told MPs the findings of a public inquiry into the killing of Alexander Litvinenko represented a breach of the ‘most fundamental tenets of international law’.
But she announced only that Interpol warrants would be issued for the arrest of the two men blamed for carrying out the killing in a London hotel. Any assets Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun still hold in Britain will also be frozen.
Marina Litvinenko had called for all Russian diplomats and spies to be expelled from London and for David Cameron to impose sanctions on the country.
Mrs May told MPs: ‘It goes without saying that this was a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenants of international law and of civilised behaviour.
‘But we have to accept this does not come as a surprise. The inquiry confirms the assessment of successive governments that this was a state-sponsored act.
‘This assessment has informed the Government’s approach to date.’
Mrs May confirmed the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s murder remains open.
She added: ‘I can tell the House today that Interpol notices and European Arrest Warrants are in place so that the main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, can be arrested if they travel abroad.
‘In light of the report’s findings the Government will go further and Treasury ministers have today agreed to put in place asset freezes against the two individuals.’
Mrs May also said: ‘Russia’s continued failure to ensure the perpetrators of this terrible crime can be brought to justice is unacceptable.’
She told MPs she has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking if any further action should be taken in terms of extradition and freezing criminal assets.
Mrs May added the Russian ambassador in London will be summoned to the Foreign Office, noting: ‘We will express our profound displeasure at Russia’s failure to cooperate and provide satisfactory answers.
‘Specifically we have and will continue to demand that Russian government account for the role of the FSB in this case.’
Earlier, Mrs May said she hopes the inquiry’s findings will provide ‘some clarity’ for Mr Litvinenko’s family, friends and those affected by his death.
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the killing of Mr Litvinenko using radioactive material exposed thousands of Londoners to unacceptable ris.
‘This, as you said, this is one of the most shocking and disturbing reports ever presented to this Parliament,’ he said.
‘It confirms that the Russian state at its highest level sanctioned the killing of a British citizen on the streets of our capital city and in so doing exposed thousands of Londoners to unacceptable levels of risk.
‘An unparalleled act of state-sponsored terrorism that must meet with a commensurate response.
‘So far reaching are the implications of this report it is important not to rush to judgement today, time must be taken to digest its findings and consider our response.’
Metropolitan Police Commander Ball today said: ‘It is important to remember that behind the significant global interest in this case, this remains an investigation into the murder of a man on the streets of London. Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko have shown immense courage and dignity since Alexander’s death and with them, we remain committed to bringing those responsible to justice.
He added: ‘This remains an ongoing investigation and I am unable to comment on the evidence or say anything further at this time.’
Was Litvinenko killed because he suggested Putin was a paedophile?
The possible motives for the killing of Alexander Litvinenko were the centre of large parts of Sir Robert Owen’s inquiry.
Despite only meeting face to face on one occasion, there was a bitter feud between President Putin and his former KGB colleague.
And a report by Mr Litvinenko suggesting allegations of paedophilia against the Russian president was highlighted by the inquiry as a possible key moment.
The inquiry was told that the report – in July 2006, just months before the assassination – was the ‘climax’ of Mr Litvinenko’s attacks on the Kremlin leader.
THE LITVINENKO INQUIRY DISMISSED A STRING OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUT WHO ELSE MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM
The Litvinenko inquiry dismissed a series of possible theories over who was responsible for the former spy’s death.
Chairman Sir Robert Owen referred to suggestions the billionaire oligarch, a fellow dissident, could have killed Litvinenko because he was being blackmailed over illegal activities in the UK.
Litvinenko did ‘occasionally make comments suggesting taking some form of action’ against his long-standing friend after he reduced the amount of money he was giving him. But Sir Robert said he was ‘quite satisfied these were never put into effect’.
‘Litvinenko and Berezovsky remained friends until the end of Litvinenko’s life,’ he wrote. ‘There was no blackmail and therefore no motive for Berezovsky to have Litvinenko killed.’ Berezovsky died in 2013.’
UK intelligence agencies
Lugovoi has also claimed he could have been ‘framed’ by British agents after an ‘operation involving Litvinenko and possibly Berezovsky that went wrong’.
He said the polonium could have been planted on him and Kovtun and left in places they visited.
Sir Robert said: ‘I am entirely satisfied that UK intelligence agencies, and for that matter UK government bodies more generally, played no part at all in Litvinenko’s death’.
Litvinenko had been ‘preoccupied’ by fighting organised crime since his days in the KGB, forerunner to the FSB, the report said.
He wrote books and articles seeking to expose links between the FSB and Russian mobsters, and towards the end of his life was working with Spanish authorities on investigations into Russian gangs there.
Sir Robert found the involvement of Russian organised crime was ‘not implausible’ but was ‘not supported by the evidence that is available to me’.
Police had not uncovered any links, and there were no indications that Lugovoi or Kovtun were ‘commissioned to kill Litvinenko by members of crime gangs’.
‘I am satisfied… that Lugovoi and Kovtun in fact received their orders from another source,’ the chairman said.
Sir Robert said it had been thought at one stage that Italian lawyer Mario Scaramella could have been involved in the killing, as he met Litvinenko the day he fell ill.
The dissident even initially suggested himself that Scaramella could have been responsible – but Sir Robert argued that was a ruse to lure Lugovoi back to the UK to face justice.
The Italian was not contaminated with polonium, the report said. ‘Mr Scaramella clearly regarded Litvinenko as a friend,’ Sir Robert wrote. ‘He had no motive to kill him.’
Sir Robert said there was ‘no evidence to support the involvement’ of Chechen groups Litvinenko had clashed with in the past.
He also dismissed the possibility that Alexander Talik, whom Litvinenko had previously accused of being an FSB agent, played any part.