Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian Federal secret service, who specialised in tackling organised crime. In November 1998, Litvinenko publicly accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested the following March but was later was acquitted and then re-arrested before the charges were again dismissed in 2000. He fled to London and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom, where he worked as a consultant for the British intelligence services.
He wrote two books in which he accused the Russian secret services of staging the Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in an effort to bring Vladimir Putin to power. He also accused Putin of ordering the murder in October 2006 of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
At a central London hotel on 1 November 2006, he took tea with Mr Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, who was also a former Russian agent. Mr Litvinenko fell ill soon afterwards and spent the night vomiting. It was established as a case of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210 which resulted in his death on 23 November. It is alleged that prior to his death Litvenko was investigating Spanish links to the Russian mafia and had planned to fly to Spain with former agent Andrei Lugovoi – the main suspect over his murder.
The UK demanded for an investigation, which the Russians denied- resulting in a thawing of tensions between the two countries.
The chairman of the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen said, “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.” Sir Robert also added that Litvinenko’s cooperation with the British intelligence services may have been a factor
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report, blaming London for politicizing the “purely criminal” case of Litvinenko’s death.
According to a foreign ministry spokesperson, the inquiry was “neither transparent nor public” and resembles a “shadow play” because it was “conducted mostly behind doors, with classified documents and unnamed witnesses contributing to the result.”
The public inquiry into the case was launched in January 2015. The case cannot face a formal trial in Britain as the main suspects are not in the UK.
Russian officials, as well as the two men suspected in Britain of killing Litvinenko – Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun – have always denied the accusations.
Commenting on the publication of the report, Lugovoy reiterated his innocence and said, “It happened as we expected it, no sensation here. The result of the inquiry voiced today just confirms the anti-Russian stance of London, the bias and lack of determination to establish the true cause of Litvinenko’s death.”
The enquiry has once again bought to light potential conspiracy theories and accusations surrounding the death of Litvinenko and the involvement of the Russian government. The diplomatic fall-out from the enquiry could derail international co-operation as well as relations between the UK and Russia.