Litvinenko’s death an ‘act of nuclear terrorism’ on London’s streets, inquiry hears

PUBLISHED: 18:16 27 January 2015

Marina Litvinenko outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Marina Litvinenko outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

PA Wire/Press Association Images

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko was an “act of nuclear terrorism on streets of a major city”, the barrister for his widow said at the opening of a public inquiry into his death eight years ago.

Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006

Addressing the inquiry on Wednesday, Ben Emmerson QC said the death of the Muswell Hill resident, who was affectionately known as Sasha, was “an act of unspeakable barbarism”.

Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina and son Anatoly were present at the Royal Courts of Justice for the inquiry, which Mrs Litvinenko has fought tooth and nail for since her late husband was poisoned by a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square.

The 43-year-old, who lived in Osier Crescent, died in hospital nearly three weeks later on November 23, 2006.

A former Russian spy and whistleblower who fled to Britain in 2000, he had advised British security service MI6 and written books linking the Russian secret service to killings and bomb attacks on civilians.

Sir Robert Owen, chairman of the public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Picture: John Stillwell/PA WireSir Robert Owen, chairman of the public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Mr Emmerson called Mr Litvinenko’s death a “political assassination”, adding: “That murder was an act of unspeakable barbarism that inflicted on Sasha Litvinenko the most painful and lingering death imaginable.

“It was an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city which put the lives of numerous other members of the public at risk.”

The amount and purity of the polonium-210, which is not traded on the black market, would have cost tens of millions of pounds and is produced solely by a laboratory owned by Russia’s Federal Atomic Agency, Rosatom.

“This was not some ham-fisted hit by a criminal gang from southern Madrid,” Mr Emmerson said.

He told the inquiry Mr Litvinenko “had to be eliminated... because he had made an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surrounded and still surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power”.

He said Mr Litvinenko was “a marked man” from the moment in 1998 that he exposed a plot by Russian intelligence service the FSB to murder Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky.

Vladimir Putin, head of the FSB at the time, was a “ruthless and deadly enemy for Mr Litvinenko to antagonise,” the QC said.

He was also killed partly to stop him giving evidence in Spain in a prosecution “that would have exposed Putin’s links to an organised crime syndicate operating in the country”. The Kremlin then “cynically” set out to portray him as a “traitor” rather than a whistleblower.

Mr Emmerson said former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun had “murdered” Mr Litvinenko. Both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.

The inquiry continues.

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