In one of the longest investigations in the modern history of Scotland Yard, the UK’s premier investigative agency has formally accused Russia of direct responsibility in the death of former KGB official Alexander Litvinenko in London in late 2006.
It took long years of investigation and forensic work to conclusively prove to UK law enforcement and intelligence that the Kremlin had set up the bizarre assassination of a Russian defector with tea laced with fatal dose of radioactive Polonium-210.
The barrister (lawyer) representing the London Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard, Richard Horwell, made a speech on Thursday discussing the main suspects in the killing: two Russian men named Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Horwell called the two “an ignorant odd couple” who were easily expendable to their KGB masters.
Litvinenko, an ex-Russian spy master who worked for intelligence service MI6 while he was in the UK, died painfully at a London hospital three weeks after drinking radioactive tea at the Millennium hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square when he was at a meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun.
The two men have denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death and Russia will not extradite them. In fact, both men have seen their careers pick up and received awards for their dedication from strongman Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
Eight-year UK Litvinenko investigation ending Friday of this week
The multi-year investigation is legally required to wrap up on Friday, but the final day will include closing speeches from Ben Emmerson QC representing Litvinenko’s widow and son, and Robin Tam QC, counsel to the inquiry.
Of note, a final report on the investigation is anticipated by the end of the year.
Excerpts from Horwell’s speech condemning Russia for murder of Litvinenko
When speaking about the involvement of Russia in the murder plot, Horwell said: “The evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko’s murder. The two attacks on Mr. Litvinenko were an outrage. They led to great suffering on his part and eventually to his demise.”
He laid out the various reasons why Russia was clearly involved in the murder. He pointed to changes to Russian law just months before that allowed the Kremlin to use agents to kill enemies of the state abroad, and highlighted Litvinenko exposure of corruption in the FSB and Russian government in the late 1990s. Horwell commented that Russia had “reasons aplenty for wishing Litvinenko not only harm but death”.
Horwell also noted that Russia had consistently obstructed law enforcement authorities investigation of this matter. “The attitude of the Russian state to this inquiry has been nothing short of contemptuous,” he claimed.
He pulled no punches when he described why the Russia wanted Litvinenko dead. Horwell even mentioned a quote supposedly made by bloody Russian dictator Josef Stalin, which translates as “no men, no problem”, saying it resonated with Litvinenko’s death.
“The murder of Alexander Litvinenko was intended to solve the problem that he had become, but in reality it had created a much greater one and one which this inquiry has ensured will not go away,” he continued.
London law enforcement had not spoken out about the Litvinenko case until the investigation was coming to a close, including declining to cross-examine witnesses, given the absence of any representation for Lugovoi, Kovtun or the Russian state, and the fact the Metropolitan Police did not want it to seem they had been influencing evidence in any way.
Horwell used closing speech to make the case against Lugovoi and Kovtun, and to appeal for the pair to face justice in the UK. “The Metropolitan police service want Lugovoi and Kovtun to be tried in this country for murder,” he said.
Radioactivity endangered others in London
Also of note, UK government officials also pointed out that bringing radioactive substances into London clearly endangered many more lives. Traces of radioactive Polonium were found everywhere where Lugovoi visited in the city, including a strip club and the Arsenal soccer stadium.
“We will never know how dangerous the exposure of polonium to the public at large will be and what long-term effects will be visited upon Londoners,” Horwell noted in his remarks on Thursday.