John Davison of Exaro -
Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko gave interviews to police on his deathbed that undermine the official story of how he was killed.
Exaro, the investigative website and a sister publication of bne IntelliNews, reveals how Litvinenko gave an account to two detectives from Scotland Yard of how by chance he came to drink a few sips of green tea, which police believe was laced with radioactive polonium.
Police say that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, working for Russian intelligence, met Litvinenko just over eight years ago at a hotel bar in London’s Mayfair to poison him with polonium-210, slipped into the tea.
But Litvinenko, while in intensive care, described in his own words how the final meeting with his alleged murderers was a hit-and-miss, even casual, encounter rather than a carefully crafted assassination.
Litvinenko also told officers in his deathbed interviews that Lugovoi introduced him to his eight-year-old son – they even shook hands – after he had drunk the tea. His description of how Lugovoi encouraged his son to greet Litvinenko raises questions about the claim that the former had, just moments earlier, poisoned the latter with a highly radioactive substance.
Litvinenko did, though, tell officers that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, was behind his poisoning.
The disclosures are set to be raised at the inquiry into Litvinenko’s death on February 3 when one of the two officers, Detective Inspector Brent Hyatt of the specialist-crime directorate of the Metropolitan Police Service, is due to give evidence.
Turn of the Millennium
Litvinenko told the two detectives how, after some last-minute arrangements, Lugovoi met him in the lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.
According to police transcripts of the interviews, the pair went into the bar on the ground floor and sat at a corner table.
Lugovoi said that they had 10-15 minutes to talk about a meeting the next day before he would leave for a football match at Arsenal with his son.
Some small glasses, several mugs and a tea pot were on the table. A waiter approached, and Lugovoi asked Litvinenko whether he wanted anything.
Litvinenko said, no.
Litvinenko told police: “He said: ‘Okay, well, we’re going to leave now anyway, so there is still some tea left here. If you want to, you can have some.’ And then the waiter went away, or, I think, Andrei asked for a clean cup, and he brought it.
“He left, and I poured some tea out of the tea pot, although there was only a little left in the bottom and it made just half a cup.”
Litvinenko told officers that the green tea had no sugar and was already cold, so he did not like it.
“Maybe in total I swallowed three-to-four times. I haven’t even finished that cup,” he added.
Kovtun joined them to discuss the next day’s meeting. No more tea was drunk.
The other officer, Detective Sergeant Chris Hoar, asked Litvinenko whether Lugovoi had insisted that he drunk the tea.
Litvinenko replied: “He said it like that, you know, ‘If you want something, order something for yourself, but we’re going to be leaving soon. If you want some tea then there is some left here, you can have some of this.’”
He added: “I could have ordered a drink myself but he kind of presented in such a way that it’s not really needed to order. I don’t like when people pay for me, but in such an expensive hotel, forgive me, I don’t have enough money to pay that."
Lugovoi left the meeting, then returned with his son.
Litvinenko, whose nickname was Sasha, recalled: “He said: ‘This is uncle Sasha, shake his hand.’ We shook hands, and he left.”
Marina, Litvinenko’s widow, is due to give evidence on February 2 at the inquiry. She says that at the time of his death her husband was carrying out work for the British Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.
Litvinenko, a KGB officer who turned Kremlin critic, later claimed asylum in the UK.
Lugovoi and Kovtun deny any responsibility for Litvinenko’s death. Russia also denies any role, and has refused to extradite the pair.
Exaro revealed, in the preliminary stages of the inquiry, how Marina joined with Lugovoi, the police’s prime suspect and former KGB bodyguard, to battle for disclosure of sensitive files held by British intelligence agencies.
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