Putin ordered Alexander Litvinenko murder, inquiry into death told
Opening day hears Russian president called a ‘common criminal’ as lawyers lay out case surrounding former spy’s death
Vladimir Putin is a “common criminal dressed up as a head of state” who presides over a mafia regime and who personally authorised the sensational murder eight years ago of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, a public inquiry heard on Tuesday.
On the first day of the inquiry at the high court in London, Ben Emmerson QC, acting for Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said the Russian had been the victim of a “horrifying” political assassination. He said Moscow had decided to silence Litvinenko after he threatened to expose links between Putin and Europe’s largest organised crime group.
Two former KGB agents – Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun – allegedly murdered Litvinenko after meeting him on 1 November 2006 at the Millennium hotel in central London. They slipped radioactive polonium-210 into his green tea. That both men were the killers was beyond any “reasonable doubt”, Emmerson said.
In scathing terms, Emmerson suggested that Litvinenko was the victim of a dysfunctional state in which criminals and politicians had merged. “The trail of polonium traces leads not just from London to Moscow but directly to the door of Vladimir Putin’s office,” he said. “Mr Putin should be unmasked by the inquiry as nothing more than a common criminal dressed up as a head of state.”
Tuesday’s long-awaited inquiry follows the collapse of an inquest into Litvinenko’s death last year. The government refused to release its secret files on Litvinenko, who from 2003 worked as an MI6 informant. The home secretary, Theresa May, initially rejected a public inquiry but last summer – following a successful legal challenge by Marina Litvinenko – agreed it could go ahead.