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Alexander Litvinenko poisoning

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On November 1 2006, former lieutenant colonel of the Russian Federation's Federal Security Service Alexander Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised. He died three weeks later, becoming the first known victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the FSB and his public accusations that the Russian government was behind his unusual malady resulted in worldwide media coverage.


Illness and poisoning

On November 1 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill. Earlier that day he had met two former KGB agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun. Lugovoi is a former bodyguard of Russian ex-Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar (also reportedly poisoned in November 2006) and former chief of security for the Russian TV channel ORT. Kovtun is now a businessman. Litvinenko had also had lunch at Itsu, a sushi restaurant on Piccadilly in London, with an Italian acquaintance, Mario Scaramella, to whom he reportedly made allegations regarding Romano Prodi's connections with the KGB.[1] Scaramella, attached to the Mitrokhin Commission investigating KGB penetration of Italian politics, claimed to have information on the death of Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist who was killed at her Moscow apartment in October 2006. He passed Litvinenko papers supposedly concerning her fate. On November 20, it was reported that Scaramella had gone into hiding and was in fear for his life.[2]

Oleg Gordievsky, a long-time acquaintance of Litvinenko and another former KGB colonel who had defected to the UK, told the BBC he believed Litvinenko was poisoned at the flat of an old Russian friend, with whom he had tea before going to the sushi restaurant. Gaidar himself was struck by a sudden unexplained illness on November 24.[3]

Litvinenko's poisoning is now attributed to the radionuclide polonium-210 after the Health Protection Agency found significant amounts of this rare and toxic element in his body. The poisoning was widely covered in the British media beginning 18 November 2006, though it had been covered in other countries for several days before.[4]

Thallium - initial hypothesis

Scotland Yard initially investigated claims that Litvinenko was poisoned with thallium. It was reported that early tests appeared to confirm the presence of the poison.[5][6] Among the distinctive effects of thallium poisoning are hair loss and damage to peripheral nerves,[7] and a photograph of Litvinenko in hospital, released to the media on his behalf,[8] indeed showed his hair to have fallen out. Litvinenko attributed his initial survival to his cardiovascular fitness and swift medical treatment. It was later suggested a radioactive isotope of thallium might have been used to poison Litvinenko.[9] Dr. Amit Nathwani, one of Litvinenko's physicians, said "His symptoms are slightly odd for thallium poisoning, and the chemical levels of thallium we were able to detect are not the kind of levels you'd see in toxicity."[10] Litvinenko's condition deteriorated, and he was moved into intensive care on November 20. Hours before his death, three unidentified circular-shaped objects were found in his stomach via an X-ray scan.[11] It is thought these objects were almost certainly shadows caused by the presence of Prussian blue, the treatment he had been given for thallium poisoning.[7][12]

Subsequently it was reported that traces of thallium are commonly found with polonium: "A tiny amount of thallium, a common impurity in polonium and a poison in its own right, was also found (in Litvinenko's body fluids). Polonium is typically made by bombarding bismuth-209, a heavy metal similar to antimony, with neutrons to make bismuth-210, which rapidly decays into polonium-210. But bismuth can also decay into thallium-206 (206Tl) — which is why polonium might have traces of thallium as well."[13] But 206Tl has a half life of minutes so it is unlikely that any would have been present by the time it was brought into the UK. It is more likely that stable lead would be found as an impurity in the polonium used.

Death and last statement

On November 22, Litvinenko's medical staff at University College Hospital reported he had suffered a "major setback" due to either heart failure or an overnight heart attack; he died the following day. Scotland Yard reported that "Inquiries continue into the circumstances surrounding how Mr Litvinenko, 43 years, of North London, became unwell."[14]

On November 25, an article attributed to Litvinenko was published by the Mail on Sunday Online entitled Why I believe Putin wanted me dead.[15]

Litvinenko's postmortem took place on December 1. It has been stated that three physicians attended, including one chosen by the family. Walter Litvinenko has stated he was told by the doctors that Litvinenko's body had five times the level of polonium-210 that would be considered lethal.[16][17]

According to Akhmed Zakayev, the Qur'an was read to him a day prior to his death.[18] Litvinenko's funeral reading took place on December 7 at the Central London mosque, after which his body was buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London.[19]


Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service Terrorism Unit has been investigating the poisoning and death. The head of the Counter-Terrorism Unit, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, stated the police "will trace possible witnesses, examine Mr. Litvinenko's movements at relevant times, including when he first became ill and identify people he may have met. There will also be an extensive examination of CCTV footage."[20] The United Kingdom Government COBRA committee met to discuss the investigation.[21] Richard Kolko from the United States FBI stated "when requested by other nations, we provide assistance" - referring to the FBI now joining the investigation for their expertise on radioactive weapons.[22][23] The Metropolitan Police announced on 6 December 2006 that it was treating Litvinenko's death as murder.[24] Interpol has also joined the investigation, providing "speedy exchange of information" between British, Russian and German police.[25]

It was known that Litvinenko had travelled by bus to the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, he had a bus ticket in his pocket from that day. The bus contained no signs of radioactivity - but large amounts had been detected at the hotel, leading police to believe that this was where the poisoning had taken place.[26] Polonium was subsequently found in a fourth-floor room and in a cup in the Pine Bar at the hotel.[27]

On November 29 2006, British Airways announced that three of its passenger jets had been linked to the investigation of Litvinenko's death and two were found by British authorities to contain trace amounts of a radioactive substance.[28][29] British Airways later published a list of 221 flights of the contaminated aircraft, involving around 33,000 passengers, and advised those potentially affected to contact the UK Department for Health help. On December 5 they issued an email to all of their customers, informing them that the aircraft had all been declared safe by the UK's Health Protection Agency and would be entering back into service.

Flights cited as being of particular interest included flights BA875 and BA873 from Moscow to Heathrow on October 25 and October 31, as well as flights BA872 and BA874 from Heathrow to Moscow on October 28 and November 3.[30] A further two aircraft in Russia are now being investigated.[31] Andrei Lugovoi has said he flew from London to Moscow on a November 3 flight. He stated he arrived in London on October 31 to attend the football match between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow on November 1.[32]When the news broke that a radioactive substance had been used to murder the ex-spy, a team of scientists rushed to find out how far the contamination had spread. It led them on a trail involving hundreds of people and dozens of locations it was reported on June 5 2007.[33]

British authorities investigated the death and it was reported on December 1 that scientists at the Atomic Weapons Establishment had traced the source of the polonium to a nuclear power plant in Russia.[34] On December 3, reports stated that Britain has demanded the right to speak to at least five Russians implicated in Litvinenko's death, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted that Moscow was willing to answer "concrete questions."[35] Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika said on Tuesday, December 5 that any Russian citizen who may be charged in the poisoning will be tried in Russia, not Britain.[36] Moreover, Chaika stated that Russian prosecutors would present any questions to Russian citizens in the presence of the UK detectives.[37]

Prospects of prosecution

On 26 January 2007 The Guardian reported the British government was preparing an extradition request asking that Andrei Lugovoi be returned to the UK to stand trial for Litvinenko's murder.[38]

On 22 May 2007 Sir Ken Macdonald QC (Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales) announced Britain would seek extradition of Lugovoi and attempt to charge him with murdering Litvinenko, and on 28 May the Foreign Office formally submitted an extradition request to the Russian Government. [39]

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika's office has refused the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi.[40][41] Article 61 of the Constitution of Russia explicitly forbids extradition of Russian citizens to foreign countries.[42]

Professor Daniel Tarschys, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, opined that another article of the Constitution "opens the door" for the extradition. According to Prof Tarschys, Russia ratified three international treaties on extradition in 1999.[43][44][45][46][47]

Article 63, paragraph 2 of the Constitution states that "[t]he extradition of people accused of a crime [..] shall be carried out on the basis of the federal law or the international agreement of the Russian Federation".[48] Article 15 of the Constitution affirms the precedence of international treaties when Russian laws contradict them.[49]. However, it should be noted that Article 63, paragraph 2 refers to "people", but not "citizens of Russian Federation". The context suggests that foreign nationals, who are granted political asylum, mentioned in Article 63, paragraph 1 are meant.


See also: Polonium

Shortly after his death, the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) stated tests had established Litvinenko had significant amounts of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 (Chemical symbol: 210Po) in his body. This was most likely either inhaled or ingested. Traces of it were found at several London locations: in his Muswell Hill home, at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, and at the sushi restaurant where he had met Scaramella on November 1, and where he regularly held meetings, including an October 16 meeting with two Russians. Traces were also found in a former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky's offices and his residence in Mayfair.[50]

The symptoms seen in Litvinenko appeared consistent with an administered activity of approximately 2 GBq (50 mCi) which corresponds to about 10 micrograms of 210Po. That is 200 times the median lethal dose of around 238 μCi or 50 nanograms in the case of ingestion.[13] However a lower activity was estimated by a different worker.[51]

British and US government sources both said the use of 210Po as a poison has never been documented before, and this was probably the first time a person has been tested for the presence of 210Po in his or her body. According to Maxim Shingarkin, an expert on radiation safety, the theory of Litvinenko's exposure to 210Po at the sushi bar or at the hotel's restaurant is not viable, given the nature of 210Po. If it is uncontained — mixed into food or a drink — 210Po will quickly transform into its aerosol form, effectively contaminating an enclosed space. Had this been the case, the other customers and the staff of the sushi bar and the restaurant would be severely affected as well. Since all the locations where the presence of 210Po was detected display only trace amounts, originating from Litvinenko himself, his initial exposure to the substance may have occurred elsewhere.[52] Since this original assessment, however, a highly contaminated tea cup has been identified in the Pines Bar of the Millennium Hotel, and police are now convinced the poison was in Litvinenko's tea cup.[citation needed]

The HPA is investigating[53] the risk to people who had contact with Litvinenko and confirmed that, as a precautionary measure, some people had been referred to a specialist clinic for possible radiological exposure assessment.[54] The HPA is also seeking to analyze impurities in the polonium that may act as a "fingerprint" to identify its source.[55]

Irène Joliot-Curie was the first person to die because of exposure to polonium. Her parents Marie and Pierre Curie were first to discover and name this new element in 1898.[56]

Sources of polonium

The use of polonium in the poisoning has been seen as proof of involvement of a state actor,[57] as more than microscopic amounts of polonium can only be produced in nuclear reactors.[58] Most polonium produced in Russia, however, is distributed by western commercial distributors.[34]

Reports now state that scientists of the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment have confirmed the polonium was manufactured and the source is likely to originate from a Russian nuclear reactor.[34][13][18] This of course does not exclude the possibility that the polonium that killed Litvinenko was imported by a licensed commercial distributor, but no one—including the Russian government—has proposed that this is likely, particularly in regard to the radiation detected on the British Airways passenger jets travelling between Moscow and London.

It is said the FSB had access to radioactive material in order to trace Russian mafia money.[59]

Basic Po-210 concentration in the body

The Times, in its article on December 1, 2006[1] said that the coffin with Litvinenko's body recommended not to be opened for 22 years. The maximum allowable concentration of Po-210 in drinking water[2] is 15 pCi / L. Taking this rule as the basis for calculations, the basic content of Po-210 in the body should be 4.93 MCi / L. This corresponds to the concentration of Po-210 more than 1kg/kg. Howewer, other sources say that the coffin that contains the body of Litvinenko cannot be opened for 6.5 years [3] which gives the estimated contamination more believable, 489 ng/kg[4] or 50 times LD50 (inhaled) and 10 times (ingested).

Polonium-210 production

Most of the world's polonium-210 (210Po) is produced in Russia in RBMK reactors. About 100 grams (450,000 Ci) are produced by Russia annually. According to a claim by Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's state atomic energy agency, RosAtom, all of it goes to U.S. companies through a single authorized supplier.[34]

Polonium-210 is a synthetic element that has a half-life of 138 days and decays to the stable daughter isotope of lead, 206Pb. Therefore the source is reduced to about one eighth of its original radioactivity about a year after production. It is thus very improbable that the polonium came from a pre-1991 Soviet-era source, and it is unlikely to have been in storage for more than a year.

Commercial products containing polonium

No credible nuclear authority has asserted that a commercial product is a likely source for the poisoning of Litvinenko. However, as Prof. Peter D. Zimmerman says, "Polonium 210 is surprisingly common. ...Polonium sources with about 10 percent of a lethal dose are readily available — even in a product sold on" [5].

Potentially lethal amounts of polonium are present in anti-static brushes sold to photographers.[60] Many of the devices are available by mail order. General Electric markets a static eliminator module with 500 microcuries (20 MBq), roughly 2.5 times the lethal dose of 210Po if 100%-ingested, for US$71[61]; Staticmaster sells replacement units with the same amount (500 mCi) of 210Po for $36.[62] In USA, the devices with no more than 500 mCi of (sealed) 210Po per unit can be bought in any amount under a "general license" [6] which means that a buyer needn't be registered by any authorities: the general license "is effective without the filing of an application with the Commission or the issuance of a licensing document to a particular person."

If these sources were used to collect the amount of polonium likely used in the poisoning—and one could devise a method of separating the polonium from its protective casing—it would take 10-100 modules for price of US$360 to 7100. That such a thing could be done is extremely difficult according to the manufacturers and would be highly dangerous to anyone attempting to do so without some special equipment like a glove-box.

Sometimes sources of polonium used in industry are stolen or lost. According to the National Regulatory Commission, there were registered at least 8 cases of loss of control of potentially lethal polonium sources in the USA during 2006 [7].

Tiny amounts of such radioisotopes are sometimes used in the laboratory and for teaching purposes — typically of the order of 4–40 kBq (0.1–1.0 μCi), in the form of sealed sources, with the Po deposited on a substrate or in a resin or polymer matrix—are often exempt from licensing by NRC and similar authorities as they are not considered hazardous. Small amounts of 210Po are available to the public in the United States by mail order from a company called United Nuclear as 'needle sources' for laboratory experimentation. It would require about 15,000 210Po of these sources at a total cost of about $1 million to obtain a toxic quantity of Polonium. They typically sell between 4 and 8 sources per year.[63][64]

According to some estimates,[65], the cost of the quantity of pure Polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko would be around £20 million (US$ 39 million),[66] which would make it the most expensive murder in history[citation needed]. However, this estimation is based on retail prices of commercially available demonstration radiation sources with very small activities and cannot be considered as reasonable.

Speculation on why Polonium-210 was chosen

Filmmaker and friend of Litvinenko, Andrei Nekrasov, has suggested that the poison was "sadistically designed to trigger a slow, tortuous and spectacular demise". [67] Russian expert Paul Joyal suggested that “A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin.... If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you, and we will silence you, in the most horrible way possible”.[68]

Oleg Gordievsky, the most senior KGB agent ever to defect to Britain, said they wanted to "demonstrate something new".[69] Another suggestion by Gordievsky, is that the poisoners were unaware that technology existed to detect traces left by polonium-210: "Did you know that polonium-210 leaves traces? I didn’t. And no one did. ...what they didn’t know was that this equipment, this technology exists in the West – they didn’t know that, and that was where they miscalculated."[70] Philip Walker, professor of physics at the University of Surrey made a similar comment: "This seems to have been a substance carefully chosen for its ability to be hard to detect in a person who has ingested it."[71]

Another reason for choosing polonium-210 may have been to suggest the likely involvement of the Russian government, to prevent its further convergence to the West. The theory was voiced by prominent writer and journalist Yulia Latynina, who works for Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper that normally tends to be very critical about Russian governmental policies.[72]


Russian Government involvement theory

The circumstances surrounding Litvinenko's death led to the assumption that he was killed by a Russian secret service. [73] Viktor Ilyukhin, a deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament’s security committee for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said that he "can’t exclude that possibility". He said: "That former KGB officer had been irritating the Russian authorities for a long time and possibly knew some state secrets. So when our special services got the chance to operate not only inside but outside the country, they decided to get rid of him."[74] He apparently referred to a recent Russian counter-terrorism law that gives the President the right to order such actions.[75][76] Moreover, it has been reported in the Chechen State Press that an investigator of the Russian apartment bombings, Mikhail Trepashkin wrote in a letter from prison that an FSB team had organised in 2002 to kill Litvinenko. He also reported FSB plans to kill relatives of Litvinenko in Moscow in 2002, although these have not been carried out.[77][78]

Leonid Nevzlin, a former Yukos oil company shareholder and Russian exile currently living in Israel, told the Associated Press in late November that Litvinenko had given him a document related to a dossier on criminal charges made by Russian prosecutors against people connected to Yukos. Nevzlin, who is charged by Russian prosecutors with having organized killings, fraud and tax evasion (all these charges are widely believed to be politically motivated), claimed Litvinenko's inquiries may have provided a motive for his poisoning.[79]

Akhmed Zakayev suggested that radioactive polonium has been previously tested on Chechen children.[80] The mass poisoning of Chechen school children by the unknown substance with prolonged action has been described by Anna Politkovskaya in three articles published in Novaya Gazeta in 2006.[81]

State Duma member, Sergei Abeltsev's comment of 24 November 2006 implies that Litvinenko was killed for his anti-Russian Government activities:[82]

The deserved punishment reached the traitor. I am sure his terrible death will be a warning to all the traitors that in Russia the treason is not to be forgiven. I would recommend to citizen Berezovsky to avoid any food at the commemoration for his accomplice Litvinenko.

Litvinenko's widow Marina Litvinenko told Mail on Sunday that she believed the Russian authorities could have been behind the murder, although she didn't think president Putin himself was directly involved. Furthermore, she said she would not cooperate with the Russian investigators:[83]

I can't believe that they will tell the truth. I can't believe if they ask about evidence they will use it in the proper way.

KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky has stated that Andrei Lugovoi "was working on behalf of the KGB with clear instructions from Putin to kill Litvinenko at any price."[84]

Russian Government response

The state controlled press in Russia has offered a number of alternatives to Litvinenko's demise.[85] As one example, Russian state television has taken the view that if Litvinenko knew any important secrets, he would already have made them public during his six-year-long stay in the United Kingdom. According to this view, he was not an important person and not worth a loud political scandal. Also a suspicious simultaneousness between the deaths of the so-called oppositionals and big international summits with Russian participation was noted, along with the question who could be interested in worsening Russia's and Putin's image in front of them.[86]

Vladimir Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky commented:

The excessive number of calculated coincidences between the deaths of people, who defined themselves as the opposition to the Russian authorities, and major international events involving Vladimir Putin is a source of concern. I am far from believing in the conspiracy theory, but, in this case, I think that we are witnessing a well-rehearsed plan of the consistent discrediting of the Russian Federation and its chief. In such cases, the famed "qui bono"[sic] question has to be asked.[87]

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, dismissed the idea of Putin's involvement as "pure nonsense".[88] The involvement of Moscow was denied by SVR representative Sergei Ivanov who said:

From the logical viewpoint and from the 'Who benefits?' viewpoint, I can't see any reasons for the speculation actively being disseminated by the western press alleging this might be the long arms of the KGB or the FSB, There should definitely be a careful and objective investigation. I am sure that it will be conducted and Russia is willing to render any assistance.[89]

The main explanation put forward by the Russian Government appears to be that the deaths of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were intended to embarrass President Putin. Federation Council of Russia Speaker Sergey Mironov said that "reports about Anna Politkovskaya and Litvinenko's deaths were released when Putin was meeting with EU leaders in Finland. I don't think the coincidence was accidental".[90] However, Mironov went on to say, "It would be premature to make any conclusions about Litvinenko's death. We must wait until the investigation produces specific results."[90]

British novelist Rupert Allason said he would be most surprised if the FSB had tried to kill Mr Litvinenko because it would fly in the face of 65 years of Soviet or Russian practice, as "[n]either the FSB nor the KGB has ever killed a defector on foreign soil and their predecessors, even under Stalin, did so only once in the case of Walter Krivitsky in Washington in 1941."[91] Despite some reports that a recent Russian counter-terrorism law gives the President the right to order such actions,[92] in fact the law in question refers only to "terrorists and their bases" abroad.

Before polonium-210 was identified as the poison, Vladimir Putin made the comment that

as far as I understand in the medical statement of British physicians, it doesn't say that this was a result of violence, this is not a violent death, so there is no ground for speculations of this kind.[93][94][95]

He also called Litvinenko's letter "a provocation".

Since few people had any doubts about this being a case of poisoning, some commentaries that discussed Putin's "curious" comment interpreted it as a give-away of his involvement.[96][97]

It has now been stated that the Russian government may consider using UK libel laws to silence journalists speculating about the Russian government's involvement.[98]

Russian cooperation and extradition

Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika said, "we will do everything to provide legal assistance to our colleagues", referring to Scotland Yard detectives. However, Chaika went on to say that "the person who is accused will be convicted by a Russian court". It is reported that Andrei Lugovoi will not be interviewed now as the Russian authorities have refused access to him because of reported illness. However, Lugovoi's lawyer states that Lugovoi is fit to be interviewed and it is not true he is ill.[99]

Possibly related events

The UK envoy in Russia, Tony Brenton, has been under harassment by a pro-government youth group called Nashi. It has also been reported that BBC Russian services have gone off air after "technical difficulties."[100]

Andrey Limarev, a former FSB agent and a colleague of Litvinenko, has disappeared in the French Alps on December 12 2006 after stating that he "would be next". It is believed that Limarav was a potential witness to the investigations.[101]

On March 2, 2007 Paul Joyal, a former director of security for the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, who the previous weekend alleged on national tele­vision that the Kremlin was involved in the poisoning of Litvinenko, was shot near his Maryland home and was reported to be in critical condition in hospital. An FBI spokesman, said the agency was "assisting" the police investigation into the shooting; it is unusual for the FBI to get involved in a local shooting incident. A person familiar with the situation said NBC had hired bodyguards for some of the journalists involved in the programme.[102]

Berezovsky theory

It has been claimed the death of Litvinenko was connected to Boris Berezovsky.[103][104] Former FSB chief Nikolay Kovalev, for whom Litvinenko worked, said that the incident "looks like [the] hand of Berezovsky. I am sure that no kind of intelligence services participated."[105]

Another exiled Russian agent, Evgeni Limarev, has confirmed that there may have been a falling out between Berezovsky and Litvinenko and also that the British (MI6) and American secret agents had told Litvinenko that his life was in danger because of his ties with Berezovsky.[106]

On the other hand, the FSB has previously accused Berezovsky of various murders, including that of Sergei Yushenkov, who worked with Berezovsky in founding the political party, Liberal Russia, and was assassinated shortly after the party was registered and Berezovsky was expelled (another co-founder of this party Vladimir Golovlev was murdered a few months earlier). Four people were put on trial and convicted of the murder, among them Mikhail Kodanev, a co-chairman of Liberal Russia. Yushenkov's death and the conviction and jailing of the co-chairman of Liberal Russia for his murder is widely perceived to have been part of a policy of eliminating the political threat posed by Berezovsky to the establishment. Therefore the accusations from the FSB of Berezovsky's involvement warrant careful consideration.

Litvinenko himself said, in an article published after his death, that while he was employed by the FSB he was requested as part of a team to assassinate Berezovsky but refused, and instead went straight to him with the information.[107] Traces of polonium-210 were found in an office belonging to Berezovsky.[50]

Yukos theory

It has been suggested that Litvinenko was killed because of his research into the Russian Government's campaign against the management of the Russian oil company Yukos and its renationalisation. According to The Times, the police investigation is looking at Litvinenko's journey to Israel prior to his illness and death, where it is alleged that he gave information regarding Yukos to Leonid Nevzlin, the former deputy head of Yukos, who fled to Tel Aviv, including material relating to the deaths of former Yukos workers and information relating to the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.[108] It is believed that these documents have been handed over to the British investigators.[109][110]

Yuri Shvets a former KGB agent has contacted police in London and detectives have flown out to Washington to interview him. He told the Observer that Litvinenko claimed before his death that he had prepared a dossier on the Russian Government's relationship with Yukos.[111]

Ex-FSB members theory

According to the Guardian: "British officials say the perpetrators were probably former Russian security agents, or members of a criminal gang linked to them. They also say that only a "state" institution would have access to polonium-210. They insist there is no evidence of the involvement of the Russian government."[112]

"Scaramella showed Litvinenko a "hit-list" of people allegedly targeted for assassination by the Russian intelligence services and a shadowy group of KGB veterans called Dignity and Honour, which is run by a Colonel Velentin Velichko."[113] Scaramella was, however, doubtful as to the authenticity of the emails he had received: "The problem for me was these mails were so full of details, so specific that they didn't seem genuine."[114] Moreover, according to Scaramella, Litvinenko was also skeptical: "Alex laughed it off. He didn't have faith in the person who sent the message and said the whole thing was incredible. He said it was not realistic at all."[115]

The Russian intelligence services are highly bureaucratic and legalistic. "There isn't a great deal of room for personal initiative, everything has to be officially authorised and signed off. And this murder would have been a highly complex operation involving many people not one or two acting in isolation."[113]

Opponents in 2008 election theory

Some believe that the public assassination of Litvinenko shows the growing fight between Kremlin clans is "spinning out of control" ahead of the 2008 Russian presidential elections, in which Putin said he would not run for a third term.[116]

Suicide theory

Some observers have suggested the death was suicide; the finding of radioactive material at several locations, including Litvinenko's house has led to some suggesting that Litvinenko killed himself to discredit the Russian government.[117] These theories have now been discounted by the investigating police, without further elaboration.

Blackmail plot theory

In The Observer, a Russian student, Julia Svetlichnaja, said that Litvinenko openly told her that he was intending to blackmail senior Russian officials and businessmen. She also said that she had become increasingly concerned about his numerous emails alleging a great variety of plots, particularly noting his claim that Putin was a paedophile.[118] The Observer claimed his "access to such documents could have made him an enemy of both big business interests and the Kremlin".[111] However, Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, a friend of Aleksander Litvinenko, has argued that blackmailing people was against the former FSB agent Litvinenko's nature.[119]

Following this, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten claimed that Svetlichnaja may have been part of a plot to discredit Litvinenko by making him appear to be an odd individual with many unfounded stories. Subsequently Aftenposten accepted that their allegations had been without foundation in fact, and paid Ms Svetlichnaja's legal costs [[8]] Aftenposten had based their allegations against Svetlichnaja on the word of an 'unnamed British professor of Russian',[120] whom Svetlichnaja identified as the ex-Radio Free Europe collaborator, Glasgow Professor of Russian literature, Martin Dewhirst.[121] [122]

Aftenposten had also claimed that Svetlichnaja was operating under a front company as non-official cover for the Russian government in order to ensure Litvinenko was made to be seen as a paranoid individual. The newspaper made a call to speak to the director of the company Russian Investors to which Svetlichnaja was allegedly connected. The director, Alexei Yashechkin, said "it was probably someone of a similar name" and, according to Aftenposten, became increasingly hesitant on the phone before hanging up.[123] [124]

After these allegations, Svetlichnaja appeared in person to defend herself at a press conference at the University of Westminster on 8 December 2006, which she held together with fellow student James Heartfield who had accompanied her as she met Litvinenko.[125] Later, Aftenposten alleged that their reporter had been "cut off and verbally attacked" as she attempted to ask questions about Svetlichnaja's role at Russian Investors. Svetlichnaja denied she had refused to speak to the reporter and Aftenposten later withdrew this allegation as well.[126] [127]

Suggestions similar to those made by Aftenposten also appeared in The Sunday Times, but following a libel suit, Times Newspapers published an apology in which they said they were "happy to make it clear that Ms Svetlichnaja has never worked for a state-owned Russian company" and accepted that "she was not part of any Kremlin-inspired campaign to discredit Mr Litvinenko".[128] [129]

Litvinenko-Shvets report

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on 16 December 2006, Yuri Shvets said that he and Litvinenko had compiled a report investigating the activities of senior Kremlin officials on behalf of a British company looking to invest "dozens of millions of dollars" in a project in Russia.[130] Shvets said the dossier was so incriminating about one senior Kremlin official, who was not named, it was likely that Litvinenko was murdered in revenge. He alleged that Litvinenko had shown the dossier to another business associate, Andrei Lugovoi, who had worked for the KGB and later the FSB. Shvets alleged that Lugovoi is still an FSB informant and he had passed the dossier to members of the spy service. Shvets says he was interviewed about his allegations by Scotland Yard detectives investigating Litvinenko's murder.

Bungling smugglers theory

According to this theory,[131] Litvinenko was part of a polonium smuggling ring.

Lugovoi or Kovtun came to London on three separate occasions with a consignment of polonium and met with Litvinenko, each time contaminating the hotel rooms to a certain extent, the first occasion being on October 16 2006.[132] Litvinenko himself was contaminated with polonium on more than one occasion.[133] On the final occasion, the container in which the polonium was being transported broke open, and the polonium fell on the floor of a hotel room (probably at the Millennium hotel), leaving contamination there.[134] The polonium was picked up off the floor and put into a teacup until a better container could be obtained, at which point Litvinenko and Kovtun were contaminated. This also left strong contamination in the teacup, which remained despite the cup having been washed several times by hotel staff. Upon leaving the room, someone turned off the light, leaving polonium on the switch. Then, to avoid being linked to the contaminated teacup in the hotel room, Litvinenko and the others left the teacup in the Pine Bar, among other dirty cups.[134] Kovtun is currently under investigation by German detectives for suspected plutonium smuggling into Germany in October.[25]

It is reported that MI6 had learnt that Al Qaida had offered millions of dollars to anyone that could supply them with polonium. By an interception of a phone call in Peshawar, GCHQ learnt information that Al Qaida were actively seeking polonium. This has now been passed to investigators to find out whether Litvinenko was in any way connected with attempting to supply polonium.[135]


Igor the Assassin 
The code-name for a former KGB assassin. He is said[136] to be a former Spetznaz officer born in 1960 who is a Judo master and walks with a slight limp. He speaks perfect English and Portuguese. He may be the same person who served Litvinenko tea in the London hotel room.[citation needed]
Andrei Lugovoi 
A former Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) operative and millionaire who met with Litvinenko on the day he fell ill (1 November). He had visited London at least three times in the month before Litvinenko's death and met with the victim four times. Traces of polonium-210 have been discovered in all three hotels where Lugovoi stayed after flying to London on October 16, and in the Pescatori restaurant in Dover Street, Mayfair, where Mr Lugovoi is understood to have dined before 1 November; and aboard two aircraft on which he had travelled.[137][138]He has declined to say whether he had been contaminated with polonium-210.[139]
Dmitry Kovtun 
A Russian businessman and ex-KGB agent who met Litvinenko in London first in mid-October and then on 1 November, the day Litvinenko fell ill. On 7 December Kovtun was hospitalized, with some sources initially reporting him to be in coma.[140] On 9 December, German police find traces of radiation at Hamburg flat used by Kovtun.[141] The following day, 10 December, German investigators identified the detected material as polonium-210 and clarified that the substance was found where Kovtun had slept the night before departing for London. British police also report having detected polonium on the plane in which Kovtun travelled from Moscow.[142] Three other points in Hamburg were identified as contaminated with the same substance.[143] On 12 December Kovtun told Russia's Channel One TV that his "health was improving".[25]
There are two conflicting theories about Dmitry Kovtun. One theory is, he may be the murderer or one of the murderers of Alexander Litvinenko, and may have made mistakes in handling the substance used, Polonium-210. The other theory is, that he is a victim just like Alexander Litvinenko; however, given how quickly Litvinenko fell ill once poisoned, it is improbable that Kovtun was poisoned without consequence for such a long period that he was able to travel so much and leave so many traces in his wake[citation needed].
Kovtun is currently under investigation by German detectives for suspected plutonium smuggling into Germany in October.[25]
Vyacheslav Sokolenko 
A business partner of Andrei Lugovoi.[144]
The Times stated that the police have identified the man they believe may have poisoned Litvinenko with a fatal polonium dose in a cup of tea on the fourth-floor room at the Millennium Hotel to discuss a business deal with Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi before going to the bar. These three men were joined in the room later by the mystery figure who was introduced as Vladislav, a man, who could help Litvinenko win a lucrative contract with a Moscow-based private security firm.[145]
Vladislav is said to have arrived in London from Hamburg on November 1 on the same flight as Dmitry Kovtun. His image is recorded by security cameras at Heathrow airport on arrival. He is described as being in his early 30s, tall, strong, with short black hair and Central Asian features. Oleg Gordievsky, an ex-KGB agent said that this man was believed to have used a Lithuanian or Slovak passport, and he left the country using another EU passport.
Leonid Nevzlin 
A businessman living in Israel has been accused by Russian Procurator's office of links to several murders in Russia and was one of the key figures in the Yukos oil company. [146]

Other persons related to the case

Yegor Gaidar 
The sudden illness of Yegor Gaidar in Ireland on November 24, the day of Litvinenko's death, has been linked to his visit to the restaurant where polonium was present and is being investigated as part of the overall investigation in the UK and Ireland.[147] However, other observers noted he was probably poisoned after drinking a strange-tasting cup of tea. Gaidar was taken to hospital; doctors said his condition is not life-threatening and that he will recover.[148][149] This incident was similar to the poisoning of Anna Politkovskaya on a flight to Beslan. After poisoning, Gaidar claimed that it was enemies of Kremlin who tried to poison him. He gave reasoning that Kremlin was a least interested organization to kill him. He also published his thoughts in Financial Times.
Mario Scaramella 
The United Kingdom's Health Protection Agency (HPA) announced that significant quantities of polonium-210 had been found in Mario Scaramella although his health was found to be normal. He has been admitted to hospital for tests and monitoring.[150] Doctors say that Scaramella was exposed to a much lower level of polonium-210 than Litvinenko had been exposed to, and that preliminary tests found "no evidence of radiation toxicity".[151] According to the 6 pm channel 4 (9 December 2006) news the intake of polonium he suffered will only result in a dose of 1 mSv. This will lead to a 1 in 20000 chance of cancer. According to The Independent, Scaramella alleged that Litvinenko was involved in smuggling radioactive material to Zurich in 2000.[152]
Boris Volodarsky, a KGB defector residing in London, stated that Evgeni Limarev, another former KGB officer residing in France, continued collaboration with FSB, infiltrated Litvinenko's and Scaramella's circles of trust and misinformed the latter.[153][154]
Marina Litvinenko 
UK reports state Litvinenko's widow tested positive for polonium, though she is not seriously ill. The Ashdown Park hotel in Sussex has been evacuated as a precaution, possibly to do with Scaramella's previous visit there.[155] According to the 6 pm channel 4 (9 December 2006) news the intake of polonium she suffered will only result in a dose of 100 mSv. This will lead to a 1 in 200 chance of cancer.
Akhmed Zakayev 
The forensic investigation also includes the silver Mercedes by Litvinenko's home believed to be owned by his close friend and neighbour Akhmed Zakayev, the foreign minister of the rebel government in exile from Chechnya.[156][157][158] Reports now state that traces of radioactive material were found in the vehicle.[159]
British Police 
Two London Metropolitan police officers tested positive for 210Po poisoning.[160]
Bar staff 
Some of the bar staff at the hotel where the polonium contaminated teacup was found were discovered to have suffered an intake of polonium (dose in the range of 10s of mSv).


Background history

  • June 7 1994: A remote-controlled bomb detonated aiming at chauffeured Mercedes 600 with oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his bodyguard in the rear seat. Driver died but Berezovsky left the car unscathed. Litvinenko, then with the organized-crime unit of the FSB, was an investigating officer of the assassination attempt. The case was never solved, but it was at this point that Litvinenko befriended Berezovsky.
  • November 17 1998: At a time that Vladimir Putin was the head of the FSB, five officers including Lieutenant-Colonel Litvinenko accuse the Director of the Directorate for the Analysis of Criminal Organizations Major-General Eugeny Hoholkhov and his deputy, 1st Rank Captain Alexander Kamishnikov, of ordering them to assassinate Boris Berezovsky in November 1997.
  • August 26 1999: Russia acknowledged bombing raids in Chechnya - start of Second Chechen War.
  • August 31 1999: Russian apartment bombings. Subsequently the Duma, on a pro-Kremlin party block vote, sealed all materials related to Ryazan incident for the next 75 years[citation needed] and forbade an investigation of what really happened.[161]
  • December 31 1999: Vladimir Putin succeeds Boris Yeltsin after he resigned due to bad health.
  • March 26 2000: Presidential elections, Putin elected.
  • March 14 2004: Putin re-elected, opponent was Ivan Rybkin.


October 2006

  • October 7: The Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya is shot in Moscow.
  • October 16: Andrei Lugovoi flies to London.
  • October 16-October 18: Former KGB agent Dmitry Kovtun visits London, during which time he eats two meals with Litvinenko, one of them at the Itsu sushi bar (see 1 November 2006).[140][162]
  • October 17: Litvinenko visits Risc Management, a security firm in Cavendish Place, with Lugovoi and Kovtun.[163]
  • October 19: Litvinenko accuses President Putin of the Politkovskaya murder.
  • October 28: Dmitry Kovtun arrived in Hamburg, Germany from Moscow on an Aeroflot flight. Later German police discovered that the passenger seat of the car that picked him up at an airport was contaminated with Polonium-210.
  • October 31: Dmitry Kovtun comes to London from Hamburg, Germany. German police found that his ex-wife's apartment in Hamburg was contaminated with polonium-210.[164]

November 2006

  • November 1: Just after 3 p.m., at the Itsu sushi restaurant on Picadilly, Litvinenko meets the Italian security expert Mario Scaramella, who hands alleged evidence to him concerning the murder of Politkovskaya. Around 4:15 p.m., he comes to the office of Boris Berezovsky to copy the papers Scaramella had given him and hand them to Berezovsky. Around 5 p.m. he meets with the former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi, Dmitry Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko in the Millennium Hotel in London. He later becomes ill.[165][166]
  • November 3: Litvinenko is brought into Barnet General Hospital.
  • November 11: Litvinenko tells the BBC he was poisoned and is in very bad condition.
  • November 17: Litvinenko is moved to University College Hospital and placed under armed guard.
  • November 19: Reports emerge that Litvinenko has been poisoned with thallium, a chemical element used in the past as a rat poison.
  • November 20: Litvinenko is moved to the Intensive Care Unit. The police take statements from people with close relation to Litvinenko. A Kremlin speaker denies the Russian government is involved in the poisoning.
  • November 22: The hospital announces that Litvinenko's condition has worsened substantially.
  • November 23: 9:21 PM: Litvinenko dies.
  • November 24: Litvinenko's dictated deathbed statement is published. He accuses President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his death. The Kremlin rejects the accusation. The HPA announces that significant amounts of Polonium-210 have been found in Litvinenko's body. Traces of the same substance are also found at Litvinenko's house in North London, at Itsu and at the Millennium Hotel.
  • November 24: Sergei Abeltsev, State Duma member from the LDPR, in his Duma address he commented on the death of Litvinenko with the following words: The deserved punishment reached the traitor. I am sure his terrible death will be a warning to all the traitors that in Russia the treason is not to be forgiven. I would recommend to citizen Berezovsky to avoid any food at the commemoration for his crime accomplice Litvinenko[82]
  • November 24: The British police state they are investigating the death as a possible poisoning.
  • November 28: Scotland Yard announces that traces of Polonium-210 have been found in seven different places in London. Among them, an office of the Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, an avowed opponent of Putin.
  • November 29: The HPA announces screening of the nurses and physicians who treated Litvinenko. The authorities find traces of a radioactive substance on board British Airways planes.
  • November 30: Polonium-210 traces are found on a number of other planes, most of them going to Moscow.

December 2006

  • December 1: An autopsy is performed on the body of Litvinenko. Toxicology results from Mr Litvinenko's post-mortem examination revealed two "spikes" of radiation poisoning, suggesting he received two separate doses.[167] Scaramella tests positive for Polonium-210 and is admitted into a hospital. Litvinenko's widow also tests positive for Polonium-210, but was not sent to the hospital for treatment.
  • December 2: Scotland Yard's counter-terrorist unit have questioned Yuri Shvets, a former KGB spy who emigrated to the United States in 1993. He was questioned as a witness in Washington in the presence of FBI officers. Shvets claimed that he has a "lead that can explain what happened".
  • December 6: Scotland Yard announced that it is treating his death as a murder.[24]
  • December 7: Confused reports state that Dmitry Kovtun was hospitalized, the reason has not yet been made clear.
  • December 7: Russian Office of the Prosecutor General has opened a criminal case over poisoning of Litvinenko and Kovtun by the articles "Murder committed in a way endangering the general public" (убийство, совершенное общеопасным способом) and "Attempted murder of two or more persons committed in a way endangering the general public".[168]
  • December 8: Kovtun is reported to be in coma.[140]
  • December 9: German police find traces of radiation at Hamburg flat used by Kovtun.[141]
  • December 9: UK police identify a single cup at the Pines Bar in the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair which was almost certainly the one used to administer the poison.[169]
  • December 11: Andrei Lugovoi is interrogated in Moscow by UK Scotland Yard and General Procurator's office of the Russian Federation. He refuses to reveal any information concerning the interrogation.[170]
  • December 12: Dmitry Kovtun tells a Russian TV station that his "health [is] improving".[25]
  • December 24: Mario Scaramella was arrested in Naples on his return from London, on apparently unrelated charges.[171]
  • December 27: Prosecutor General of Russia Yury Chaika accused Leonid Nevzlin, a former Vice President of Yukos, exiled in Israel and wanted by Russian authorities for a long time, of involvement in the poisoning, a charge dismissed by the latter as a nonsense. [9]


February 2007

  • February 5: Boris Berezovsky told the BBC that on his deathbed, Litvinenko said that Lugovoi was responsible for his poisoning.[172]
  • February 6: The text of a letter written by Litvinenko's widow on 31 January to Putin, demanding that Putin work with British authorities on solving the case, was released. [173]

May 2007

  • May 21: Sir Ken Macdonald QC (Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales ) say that Lugovoi, should face trial for the "grave crime" of murdering Litvinenko.
  • May 22: Macdonald announces that Britain will seek extradition of Lugovoi and attempt to charge him with murdering Litvinenko. The Russian government states that they will not allow the extradition of any Russian citizens. [40]
  • May 28: The British Foreign Office formally submits a request to the Russian Government for the extradition of Lugovoi to the UK to face criminal charges. [39]
    • The Constitution of Russia forbids extradition of Russian citizens to foreign countries (Article 61), so the request can not be fulfilled.[174] However Article 63[174] reads:
      2. In the Russian Federation it shall not be allowed to extradite to other States those people who are persecuted for political convictions, as well as for actions (or inaction) not recognized as a crime in the Russian Federation. The extradition of people accused of a crime, and also the handover of convicts for serving sentences in other States shall be carried out on the basis of the federal law or the international agreement of the Russian Federation.

Extradition requests had been granted in the past (For example in 2002 Murad Garabayev has been handed to Turkmenistan[175]. However, Garabayev's extradition was later found unlawful by the Russian courts and he was awarded 20,000 Euros in damages to be paid by the Russian government by the European Court of Human Rights.[176]) Article 63 does not explicitly mention Russian citizens, and therefore does not apply to them, but only to foreign nationals living in Russia. Article 61 supersedes it for the people holding the Russian citizenship.

  • May 31: Lugovoi held a news conference at which he accused MI6 of attempting to recruit him and blamed either MI6, the Russian mafia, or fugitive Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovsky for the killing. [177]

July 2007

  • July 16: The British Foreign Office confirms that, as a result of Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoi, four Russian diplomats are to be expelled from the Russian Embassy in London. [178]
  • July 17: The Russia's deputy foreign minister, Mr Alexander Grushko, threatens to expel 80 UK diplomats.[179]
  • July 19: The Russian Foreign ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, declared the expulsion of 4 UK diplomats from the British Embassy in Moscow.[179]

October 2007

  • October 27: British newspaper Daily Mail journalists Stephen Wright and David Williams, reported that Alexander Litvinenko was an MI6 agent and was receiving a retainer of 2,000 British pounds per month when he was murdered.[180] Current head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett was involved in Litvinenko recruitement. This revelation came from "diplomatic and intelligence" sources.

Comparisons to other deaths

Deaths from ingesting radioactive materials

According to the IAEA in 1960 a person ingested 74 MBq of radium (assumed to be 226Ra) and this person died four years later.[181] Harold McCluskey survived 11 years (eventually dying from cardiorespiratory failure) after an intake of at least 37 MBq of 241Am (He was exposed in 1976). It is estimated that he suffered doses of 18 Gy to his bone mass, 520 Gy to the bone surface, 8 Gy to the liver and 1.6 Gy to the lungs; it is also claimed that a post mortem examination revealed no signs of cancer in his body. The October 1983 issue of the journal Health Physics was dedicated to McCluskey, and subsequent papers about him appeared in the September 1995 issue.[182]

Suspicious deaths of people involved in Russian politics

See also: List of journalists killed in Russia

Comparisons have been made to the alleged 2004 poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko, the alleged 2003 poisoning of Yuri Shchekochikhin and the fatal 1978 poisoning of the journalist Georgi Markov by the Bulgarian Committee for State Security. The incident with Litvinenko has also attracted comparisons to the poisoning by radioactive thallium of KGB defector Nikolay Khokhlov and journalist Shchekochikhin of Novaya Gazeta (the Novaya Gazeta interview with the former, coincidentally, prepared by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was later found shot to death in her apartment building).[183] Like Litvinenko, Shchekochikhin had investigated the Russian apartment bombings (he was a member of the Kovalev Commission that hired Litvinenko's friend Mikhail Trepashkin as a legal counsel).

Former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky believes the murders of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Shchekochikhin, and Politkovskaya and the incident with Litvinenko show that FSB has returned to the practice of political assassinations,[184] which were conducted in the past by Thirteenth KGB Department.[185] A comparison was also made with Roman Tsepov[186] who was responsible for personal protection of Anatoly Sobchak and Putin, and who died in Russia in 2004 from poisoning by an unknown radioactive substance.[187] Officers of FSB "special forces" liked to use Litvinenko photos for the target practice in shooting galleries, according to Russian journalist Yulia Latynina.[188]

References in popular culture

  • Channel Four Television Corporation has signed Mentorn productions to make a television drama based on the Litvinenko poisioning. Peter Kosminsky will be the director.[189]
  • Johnny Depp is reportedly planning to make a film based on a forthcoming book.[190][191][192]
  • A 2007 episode of "Law & Order Criminal Intent" featured a story that alluded to the incident and the 60 Minutes CBS News program aired a segment on "Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?" on January 7, 2007. A transcript is available online.[193]
  • Thriller writers Frederick Forsyth and Andy McNab claimed that the killing of Alexander Litvinenko is a classic case of fact being stranger than fiction and that they would be fighting a losing battle if they offered a Litvinenko-style story to a publisher.[194]

See also


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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alexander_Litvinenko_poisoning". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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