Sunday, 14 February 2016

“It was almost the perfect murder. But the Polonium was discovered, and Marina Litvinenko was told it wasn’t safe to go home.”

Marina L.: “I received telephone call from the police. They said Marina we even don’t know how to tell it to you because it’s never been in our practice to manage with Polonium-210, with a radioactive material what kill a person. I said OK, and what we’re going to do? They said – another thing we just realised, it may be not safe place for you to stay in the house. It means in the same time I lost everything.”

Watson: “The government’s civil contingencies committee ‘COBRA’ met four times in the week after the attack. The Health and Safety Executive was worried about causing alarm by closing contaminated hotels. My source told me that they even tested the London Underground, stations and trains, and found traces of Polonium. This remained secret at the time, to avoid public panic. At the peak of its investigation the Metropolitan Police had more than a hundred detectives on the case [footage of police sealing off premises in central London]. Radioactive Polonium-210 had left a trail, a calling card for murder – on planes, in cars, on china, tables and chairs.”

“Are we supposed to believe, that the only people the Russian state could find, are sort of Laurel and Hardy of assassins – the people who poisoned themselves, and their wives, with their children... They could do better than that. [Sir Robert Owen’s] report is trying to portray it as a sort of Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, but instead of a dormouse sleeping under the teapot, there is a radioactive isotope.”
Dr. Julia Svetlichnaya, speaking on Ken Livingstone and David Mellor’s LBC Radio show, Saturday 23 January 2016. 

Sir Robert Owen summarises the evidence given to his Public Inquiry by Dr Svetlichnaya as follows:

5.53 The essential facts about Dr Svetlichnaya’s contact with Mr Litvinenko are, I think, uncontroversial.
a. In 2006, Dr Svetlichnaya was a research student at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University
b. One of the subjects of Dr Svetlichnaya’s research was the issue of Chechen identity. She wished in that connection to interview Akhmed Zakayev
c. In order to arrange such an interview, Dr Svetlichnaya contacted Mr Berezovsky, whose phone number she had been given by a journalist. Mr Berezovsky said that he could not introduce her to Mr Zakayev, but he gave her contact details for Mr Litvinenko – who, he said, might introduce her to Mr Zakayev. Dr Svetlichnaya formed the impression that the intention was that Mr Litvinenko would vet her in order for a decision to be taken as to whether she should be allowed to interview Mr Zakayev
d. Dr Svetlichnaya made contact with Mr Litvinenko in late March or early April 2006. They subsequently met six or seven times between the end of April and the end of May. The meetings took place in various locations, including Itsu in Piccadilly, Hyde Park, Mr Litvinenko’s house and the Park Lane Hilton Hotel. Mr Zakayev was present at the last meeting.

5.54 There is one particular element of Dr Svetlichnaya’s evidence that is of potential relevance to the issue of blackmail. Dr Svetlichnya was taken through this part of her evidence with some care when she gave oral testimony at the Inquiry. What she told me, in summary, was that during the course of her meetings with Mr Litvinenko, he said that he had plans to take action against a group of wealthy Russians. The intention that he expressed appeared to be to obtain secret files relating to these individuals and then to blackmail them. Dr Svetlichnaya told me that this was a recurring theme of their conversations. She said that the expression used by Mr Litvinenko was that he would “force them to share”, meaning their money – she also said that he mentioned blackmail, and that he also talked of selling sensitive information. She said Mr Litvinenko talked of his intention to demand payment of US$10,000 from each individual. Dr Svetlichnaya was asked what Mr Litvinenko had said about his intended targets and she replied, “I can just quote him: bastards, bastards from the Kremlin, bastards like Abramovich. That kind of person.”

Following a pattern established in regard to his treatment of other Russian nationals, like Lugovoy and Kovtun, however, Owen decides that her testimony is of no use to him:

5.56 The view that I have taken is that Dr Svetlichnaya’s evidence does not assist me in reaching my conclusions about Mr Litvinenko’s death. I have taken that view for the following reasons.
5.57 First, the principal allegation that has been raised – by Mr Lugovoy – is that Mr Litvinenko may have been blackmailing Mr Berezovsky. Dr Svetlichnaya did not say that Mr Litvinenko mentioned Mr Berezovsky as one of the intended targets of his “force to share” plans, and moreover the description of his intended targets that he did give to Dr Svetlichnaya – “bastards from the Kremlin” – would not appear to have included Mr Berezovsky.”

This is some of the most defective reasoning in Owen’s entire report. He describes as “uncontroversial” the fact that Julia Svetlichnaya “contacted Mr Berezovsky, whose phone number she had been given by a journalist.” Obviously, Litvinenko would have known this very well. Therefore, while not apparently very wise, it is one thing for him to let on about his intention to blackmail “a group of wealthy Russians”. However, he would have to have taken leave of his senses to refer to Berezovsky by name, in the company of a woman he barely knew, and who he knew had Berezovsky's phone number! This does lead one to question why he would mention Berezovsky's name to Dmitri Kovtun, but Kovtun at least was 'a friend of a friend', unlike Dr Svetlichnaya.

“5.58 Second, although on Dr Svetlichnaya’s account Mr Litvinenko was clearly describing some sort of blackmail plans, those plans would appear still to have been at an early stage only weeks before he became ill. Dr Svetlichnaya did not suggest that Mr Litvinenko told her that he had actually implemented any of these plans, or that he had even started to implement them.”

Very shortly after Litvinenko’s death, Daniel McGrory and Tony Halpin published an article in the Times: "Poisoned spy visited Israel with oil dossier", describing how Litvinenko paid a visit to the former CEO of Russian oil giant Yukos, Leonid Nevzlin. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Russian-born businessman Leonid Nevzlin, former CEO of the Yukos oil company and current chairman of the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, said Friday that he had met in Israel with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died Thursday in London from poisoning.
During the meeting, Litvinenko allegedly passed Nevzlin documents containing classified information possibly damaging to the current leadership in Russia.
In Nevzlin's estimation, Litvinenko's murder was tied to the information relating to Yukos contained in the documents.”

Owen however makes no mention of this mysterious ‘pilgrimage to the Holy Land’, in spite of Nevzlin’s claim that he…

“…turned the documents over to the London Metropolitan Police, who are investigating the murder.”

Peter Clark: “The obvious line of enquiry is – you follow the trail, and that’s exactly what this investigation was. Trails of Polonium across London and beyond. Well over 40 sites of radioactive contamination. We were cutting new ground, almost at every stage of this enquiry.”

At this point, with Laurel and Hardy already having had a citation, one might be hard pushed to resist a quick mention of the ‘Keystone Cops’.

Watson: “The two former Russian spies [sic] who met Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel before he fell ill were quickly identified as prime suspects. Here [CCTV footage] Andrei Lugovoy is caught on a hotel security camera, on his way to the toilets, hand in pocket. Was he hiding the poison?

It seems Watson may be reading more into this than the evidence really justifies. On this reasoning, presumably, if he’d glanced at his watch it might be inferred that he wanted to estimate when the poison would start taking effect. Alternatively though Watson – might he simply have had his hand in his pocket? Perhaps that was where he kept his wallet, or his room key – or his ticket for the Champions League game due to take place that evening. It’s not every day a CSKA fan gets to see his team play away from home in the biggest and most prestigious club competition in the world.

Fifteen minutes later, Dmitri Kovtun does the same, spending three minutes in the toilets.

One of the more banal observations in the history of broadcasting.

The bathroom sinks, the hand-drier and one toilet door were later found to have some of the heaviest contamination of all.

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