LONDON, August 10 (Itar-Tass) - British security services might have played a role in the the death of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in London in 2006, American investigative journalist Edward Epstein said.
The Daily Mail published an article about the results of his probe into the “Litvinenko case.”
“What I found led me to conclude that the accepted version of events is far from being the true story and raised a tantalising question: could the British secret service be to blame?” Epstein wrote.
Initially specialists suspected that Litvineko had been poisoned with thallium, a toxin used in Russian rat poison. “Since thallium was supposedly a favourite poison of the KGB in the Cold War era and Litvinenko was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was believed Litvinenko might have been the victim of the FSB, the Russian security service that took over from the KGB,” the journalist said.
But “just two hours before his death, there had been another startling twist in the story. New medical tests revealed that the fatal poison was not thallium but polonium-210, one of the world’s most tightly controlled radioactive isotopes and a critical component in the making of early-stage nuclear bombs,” Epstein noted.
“Its unexpected presence should have triggered an inquiry by international nuclear anti-proliferation agencies, anxious to find out which country was holding illicit stocks of this high-security substance,” he said, adding that instead, the police assumed it had been smuggled into London for the sole purpose of committing murder.
Epstein believes that “such a theory was … inherently unlikely.” In fact, “why would anyone use a nuclear weapon to kill an individual, when a knife, bullet or conventional poison would do the trick more quickly, efficiently and certainly? As an assassination weapon, polonium-210 would have to be handled with great caution, since it is extremely unstable and leaks into the air with ease. It would be potentially as deadly to the killer as the victim,” he wrote.
Epstein said he had spent “months” studying official documents and interviewing witnesses and experts. “I even went to Moscow to confront the alleged killer, [Andrei] Lugovoi [a former KGB man whom Litvinenko had met at a London hotel a few days before he fell ill and who Britain insists is the murderer],” he said.
However Epstein pointed out that there was no toxicology report to indicate when Litvinenko had been exposed to the radioactive nuclear component. “There were no post-mortem slides of his lungs, digestive tract or body, which could have shown how the radioactive material got into his bloodstream — whether inhaled, swallowed or through an open cut,” he said.
“Moreover, I learned, the Russians had been making their own inquiries into the case, but they had run into a brick wall when they asked for information from London,” he said.
The Russian investigators concluded that there was not “a single piece of evidence” that proved Lugovoi had to be the source, he noted.
As for the small quantity of polonium-210 involved, it could have been made in any country with an uninspected nuclear reactor — a list that in 2006 included Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. Or it could also have been stolen from stockpiles in the former Soviet Union or in the U.S., where, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there had been 14 incidents of missing industrial polonium-210 since 2004, the journalist concluded.
Epstein observed that there is range of theories about Litvinenko’s death. The most prevalent one is that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the orders to murder Litvinenko, and that Lugovoi carried them out.
A second theory is that Putin’s enemies in London arranged the death of Litvinenko so as to cast suspicion on Putin. Other theories hold that Litvinenko was killed because of investigations he was making into organised crime in Spain involving the Mafia and the Kremlin.
However, Epstein believes that “none of these theories holds true” and “Alexander Litvinenko was not murdered at all — but rather that he was contaminated by an accidental leakage of polonium-210.”
In fact, polonium is often used in modern espionage to power miniaturised transmitters planted in one’s clothes to track a person’s movements. Polonium can also be used as bait to entrap someone suspected of buying nuclear material. “And who would be behind either of these scenarios?” Epstein asks a rhetorical question.
He noted that Litvinenko had been working for a number of intelligence services, including British intelligence, Russia’s Federal Security Service, America’s CIA, and Italy’s SISMI.
Epstein thinks that Litvinenko and a number of his associates were in contact with a container of polonium-210 and his conclusion is that “at some stage along the line, it simply leaked with catastrophic consequences.”
To prove his point, the journalist cited the fact that “crucial evidence, such as the autopsy report, is locked away in the realms of British national-security secrecy.”
“Despite the request of the British coroner, Sir Robert Owen, that a full public inquiry should be held with a far broader investigative remit, the Government last month refused,” he noted.
Epstein assumed that “the strange, radioactive death of Alexander Litvinenko is likely to earn its place in the annals of unsolved crime forever.”
The inquest proper into the death of Alexander Litvinenko would begin on October 2, 2013. It was expected earlier that this would happen on May 1, but then was postponed by presiding Judge Robert Owen for almost six months because of a delay in various procedures, including the submission of certificates by the holders of the “interested party” status.
The coroner’s court has also published a provisional list of questions to be examined during the pre-inquest hearings. These include different aspects and circumstances of Litvinenko’s life in Russia and then in Britain, post mortem and toxicology evidence, and responsibility for his death.
The inquest said earlier it might look into the involvement of Litvinenko’s late friend Boris Berezovsky and groups connected with Chechens and the Spanish Mafia. The court may also consider different leads as Litvinenko’s suicide and the infliction of death by negligence.
The lawyer of Litvinenko’s wife Marina said earlier that her defendant did not like assumptions that her husband might have committed suicide or died as a result of some accident. Marina believes these leads have no foundation but she is prepared for a situation where they will be considered in court.
It’s a coroner's duty to find out if the death of a person has constituent elements of offence. After that, the coroner decided whether the case should be submitted for judicial inquiry.
Litvinenko died of polonium 210 poisoning at a London hospital in November 2006.