Nine British investigators arrived in Moscow on Monday. The investigators are involved in the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former officer of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB), who died in London on November 23. Litvinenko is claimed to have been killed with polonium-210, a radioactive element. The investigators are planning to interview several Russians who met with Litvinenko in London at the Millennium Hotel on November 1, the day Litvinenko fell ill.
Cobra, the British governmental committee comprising representatives of Home Office, Department of Health, Department of Transport, the police and national security agencies, said Sunday that the major threat linked to traces of polonium found in London was over. Speaking to Vremya Novostei, a spokesperson for British Department of Health confirmed that a few locations across London had been checked by specialists for possible radioactive contamination. The locations were found safe. Three British Airways planes and London’s Arsenal stadium were among the locations cleared by British authorities last week. A group of Russians which met Litvinenko on November 1, had arrived in London earlier on that day to watch a soccer game between CSKA Moscow and London’s Arsenal. British authorities have also cleared the locations visited by Mario Scaramella, an Italian researcher, who met Litvinenko on the day the day he fell ill. The locations include a hotel near London and two easyJet planes that Scaramella flew to Britain to meet Litvinenko and back to Italy. According to statement released by London’s University College Hospital, Scaramella had been exposed to a “significant quantity” of polonium-210 but was showing no poisoning symptoms. “Mr. Scaramella is feeling well,” the hospital said in a statement. Litvinenko’s widow is reported to have no health problems either.
However, the results of a postmortem examination conducted on Litvinenko’s body Friday have not yet been announced. There are reasons to expect them to be classified. According to The Observer, Litvinenko may be eventually transformed from the victim into one of the accused. The newspaper published a comment by Julia Svetlichnaja, a Russian academic currently with the University of Westminster, who said that Litvinenko had told her of plans to make tens of thousands pounds by blackmailing high-ranking officials of the Russian security agencies and wealthy businessmen. Svetichnaja wrote that she had received more than a hundred of e-mail messages from Litvinenko earlier this year. She said Litvinenko claimed access to classified FSB documents. According to her, Litvinenko suggested she cut a deal with him “to make money.”
Sveltichnaya wrote in her comment that Litvinenko had possessed Russian intelligence documents with information about people and companies that lost favor with the Kremlin. “Litvinenko told me he was going to blackmail or sell sensitive information about all kinds of powerful people, including oligarchs and corrupt officials. He mentioned a sum of ten thousand pounds, which they would be paying him every time to keep him from leaking FSB documents. Litvinenko needed money, he was confident that he could get access to any document he was after,” Svetlichnaja wrote.
The Observer reported that Litvinenko’s access to such information might have made him a foe of both the Kremlin and oligarchs. “At the same time, his allegations are virtually impossible to verify. Some experts believe the allegations are sheer fantasies,” The Observer reported.
According to article published by The Observer, British law enforcement officials visited the United States last week to interview former KGB officer Yury Shvets, who claimed to have had very important information relating to the Litvinenko case. Shvets resides in the United States.
Both Litvinenko and Shvets had worked for Boris Berezovsky. Shvets declined to speak with The Observer.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an associate of Svets told The Observer that Litvinenko had claimed in the weeks before his death that he had a file with damaging revelations about the Kremlin and its relationship with Yukos oil firm. The FBI launched its own investigation into the death of Litvinenko following the allegations, according to The Observer.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Mario Scaramella had given Litvinenko a memo written by Yevgeny Limarev, a former colleague of Litvinenko’s, during lunch at a sushi restaurant in central London on November 1. The memo claimed that the Russian state security veterans from an organization called Dignity and Honor, headed by FSB Colonel Valentin Velichko, were planning to assassinate Litvinenko, “Russia’s enemy No 1”, and his friend, self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, “his comrade in arms.” Litvinenko is reported to have taken the memo to Berezovsky’s offices.
The Daily Telegraph also reported on Scaramella and Italian Senator Paulo Guzzanti, who headed the so-called “Mitrokhin Commission” on Soviet-era espionage in Italy. Scaramela advised the commission. From 2000 to 2002, Scaramela also chaired the Program for Prevention of Ecological Crimes. In particular, Scaramella was involved in the search for Soviet nuclear missiles. Last year he claimed that a Soviet sub that had been secretly sunken in the Naples harbor during the Cold War had 20 missiles on board. Besides, Scaramella claimed Litvinenko had previously handed him confidential information which helped foil an attempt on Sen. Guzzanti’s life. Some newspapers say that Scaramella is working for Italian intelligence agency. The Italian government strongly denies the allegations.
Meanwhile, British Secretary of Transport Douglas Alexander expressed skepticism as to the reports on the Litvinenko case published by British newspapers recently. “Taking into account all that is being discussed at the Cobra meetings, I can tell that our newspapers are very poorly informed,” said Alexander, in an interview televised on Sunday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stressed the point that Britain had not had any questions for Moscow with regard to the ongoing investigation. “We can’t understand why we’re being reminded daily of the investigation and some questions to be answered by the Russian side. There are no such questions. The British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett made it quite clear when we spoke a while ago,” Lavrov said.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
The Ilyushin 20 (Il-20) military electronic reconnaissance aircraft of the Russian Air Force with 14 servicemen on board that went off radar screens off the coast of Syria was shot down by Syrian air defense systems over the Mediterranean Sea