Former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko’s post-mortem ‘one of the most dangerous’

January 28, 2015 7:09 pm

The body of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was so
radioactive that his post-mortem was “one of the most dangerous” ever
undertaken and the isotope that killed him so rare it would not have
been discovered by a normal autopsy, a pathologist said.
Nathaniel
Cary, who conducted the post mortem examination, told an inquiry into
the death that Litvinenko’s corpse was so hazardous that it was left in
place for two days after he died in a London hospital on Nov. 23, 2006,
from poisoning with radioactive polonium-210.
Cary said the
autopsy conducted by medics in protective clothing and ventilation hoods
was “one of the most dangerous post-mortem examinations ever undertaken
in the Western world.”

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned Kremlin critic, fell
violently ill on Nov. 1, 2006, after drinking tea with two Russian men
at a London hotel, and spent three weeks in hospital before he died.

                                                           Alexander Litvinenko
On
his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of
ordering his assassination, and Britain has also alleged that the
Russian state was involved.
Cary said he did not know of another
confirmed case of polonium poisoning anywhere in the world, and the
isotope’s presence would not have been discovered by routine post-mortem
toxicology tests. He said the cause of death would likely have remained
a mystery was it not for a urine test conducted by a doctor, on a
hunch, shortly before Litvinenko died.
Ben Emmerson, lawyer for
the dead man’s widow Marina Litvinenko, suggested that polonium’s rarity
made it an ideal assassination weapon.
Police Det. Insp. Craig
Mascall told the inquiry that the investigation remains active, and the
men who met Litvinenko — Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi — are still
wanted for murder.
They have denied involvement, and has
refused to extradite them. The judge leading the inquiry has invited
them to give evidence by video-link, but he has no power to compel them.
Lugovoi,
a former KGB agent who is now a Russian lawmaker, told The Associated
Press that evidence being presented at the inquiry was “nonsense.”
“Such evidence simply does not exist because Russia wasn’t involved,” Lugovoi said at his office in Russia’s parliament.
Lugovoi
also said the inquiry was designed to “whitewash” the involvement of
British intelligence agency MI6. Litvinenko’s family says he was working
for MI6 when he died.
Alexander Litvinenko was “eliminated” because he was exposing
Vladimir Putin’s intimate links with organised crime, a public inquiry
into one of the most chilling and extraordinary murders in recent
British history heard.
In an incendiary start to the hearing, the
Russian President was charged with unleashing an “act of nuclear
terrorism on the streets of a major city” which could have massacred
thousands of people, to kill Litvinenko, a former KGB agent the Kremlin
had come to see as a traitor.
The act of “unspeakable barbarism”,
said Ben Emmerson, QC, for Litvinenko’s family, was carried out to hide
malignant corruption at the highest level of the Russian hierarchy.
“The
startling truth which will be revealed by this inquiry is that a
significant part of Russian organised crime is organised directly from
the offices of the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a mafia state.

“He had to be eliminated because he had become an enemy of
the close-knit group of criminals who surround Putin and keep his
corrupt regime in power”, said Emmerson.
“When all of the open
and closed evidence is considered together, Mr Litvinenko’s dying
declaration will be borne as true, that the trail of polonium traces
lead not just from London to Moscow, but directly to the door of
Vladimir Putin – and Mr Putin should be unmasked by this inquiry as a
common criminal dressed up as a head of state.”
The inquiry,
which began eight years, two months, three weeks and six days after the
death of Litvinenko, with the stated aim of finding the truth, was
always going to be about much more than a crime.
The British
Government had fought a long legal action to prevent an inquiry taking
place, but changed its mind as relations between Russia and the West
began to slide back to the days of the Cold War.
The Home
Secretary, Theresa May, finally agreed to the proceedings five days
after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine with
Kremlin-backed separatists being blamed. The activities of Andrei
Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtum, accused of administering polonium to
Litvinenko, an exiled opponent of the Kremlin, were charted in court.
Emmerson
claimed that Litvinenko, as a former officer in the KGB and FSB, “had
blown the whistle on a range of serious wrongdoings by Mr Putin and his
allies. He was killed, partly as an act of political revenge for
speaking out, partly as a message to others, and partly to prevent him
from giving evidence as a witness in a criminal prosecution in Spain – a
prosecution which could have exposed President Putin’s link to an
organised crime syndicate”.
There will, undoubtedly, be a fierce
backlash from Moscow if the inquiry holds Putin and senior figures in
the Kremlin responsible for murder.
Litvinenko, an officer in the
FSB, had also worked for MI6 and the Spanish security service.
Officials in Moscow have accused western security agencies of trying to
frame the Russian leadership.
The person who had done the most to
set this stage, Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, sat quietly, wrapped in her
own grief, as the terrible account of her husband’s lingering death was
recounted in Court 73.
Over the next two months evidence will be
given by former and current intelligence agents, police anti-terrorist
officers, nuclear scientists, current affairs analysts and Marina
Litvinenko. Lugovoi, a former FSB officer, and Kovtum, who had served in
the Russian military, have been invited to give evidence, but so far
they have shown no inclination to do so. The Crown Prosecution Service
has tried and failed to get the two men extradited from Russia to face
trial.
Litvinenko had no doubt who he blamed for what had
happened. In an interview with the police, the stricken man had stated:
“Having knowledge of this system I know that this order about a killing
of a citizen from another country on its territory, especially if it is
something to do with Great Britain, could have been given only by one
person … That person is the President of the Russian Federation,
Vladimir Putin. Of course, now while he is still President you won’t be
able to prosecute him, because he is the President of a huge country
crammed with nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons.”
As
he lay dying in London’s University College Hospital, a statement was
read out on behalf of Litvinenko, the inquiry heard. He said: “You may
succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the
world will reverberate, Mr Putin, for the rest of your life. May God
forgive you for what you’ve done, not only to me but to beloved Russia
and our people.”
Who was Alexander Litvinenko?
A
former Russian agent who became a Britain-based critic of the Kremlin.
He fell ill on November 1, 2006 after drinking tea with two Russian men
at a London hotel. He died three weeks later, aged 43.
What killed him?
Ben
Emmerson, lawyer for Litvinenko’s widow, said he was the victim of an
“assassination by agents of the Russian state”. He died of “acute
radiation syndrome”. The court heard he was poisoned with radioactive
polonium not once but twice. Litvinenko complained of feeling ill a
couple of weeks before he was hospitalised, after an earlier meeting
with Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi.
What is the inquiry’s purpose?
Robin
Tam, the inquiry’s legal counsel, said it was not a trial whose job was
to determine guilt – but that it would try to follow the evidence
wherever it led.
What is the evidence?
Tam
said that detectives had found “a large number of positive traces” of
the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in London locations visited by
Litvinenko and the two suspects, including in hotels, bars, aircraft
and even Arsenal FC’s Emirates stadium. One of the suspects had
approached a contact in Germany and asked if he knew a chef in London
who could slip a “very expensive poison” into Litvinenko’s food or
drink.
Why use polonium 210?
It is a soft
metal which is so deadly an amount as small as a grain of salt would
kill an adult. It is tasteless so the victim does not realise his food
has been laced with it. Nor does it set off radiation detectors. It
destroyed internal organs and sabotaged his body’s immune system.
What is the Kremlin’s view?
Moscow
denies responsibility, and has refused to extradite the two prime
suspects. Kovtun and Lugovoi have strongly denied involvement in
Litvinenko’s death. They have been invited to give evidence by video
link.

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