Monday 11 December 2017

Alexander Litvinenko warned to 'get his will ready' four years before death

Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died from 'major overdose' of radioactive polonium-210
Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died from 'major overdose' of radioactive polonium-210

Tom Whitehead

Murdered Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was warned by former security service friends as early as 2002 that he had been “sentenced to extrajudicial elimination” and should “get his will ready”, the inquiry into his death heard.

The former KGB officer received a letter from Mikhail Trepashkin warning him he faced assassination after he wrote a book claiming links between Vladimir Putin and organised crime.

The letter, sent while Mr Litvinenko was sheltering in the UK, quoted another colleague, Victor Shebalin, who revealed the danger.

Both Trepashkin and Shebalin had appeared alongside Mr Litvinenko at a press conference in 1998, when they exposed corruption within the FSB – the successor to the KGB.

Mr Litvinenko became a target following that and had to flee Russia with his family two years later.

But in October 2002, Mr Trepashkin wrote to Mr Litvinenko to warn him he was at risk.

It followed publication of a book by Mr Litvinenko, called “The Gang from Lubyanka” which alleged links between the FS, Putin and organised crime.

Read more: Two suspects still wanted in connection with murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko

In the letter, Mr Trepashkin said Mr Shebalin had warned him that Mr Litvinenko had been “sentenced to extrajudicial elimination” and that he should “get his will ready in advance”.

Mr Shebalin stressed he was not involved in any assassination attempt.

The inquiry also heard how Andrei Ponkin, another former friend, visited Mr Litvinenko in London asking if he could get together some Chechens to kill Putin.

Mr Litvinenko dismissed the approach as an attempt to smear him as a criminal.

Meanwhile, Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina took to the stand at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for a second day.

She was asked about an allegation that her late husband, whom she affectionately knew as Sasha, had inadvertently poisoned himself when obtaining radioactive substance polonium-210.

Two men - former KGB bodyguard turned politician Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun - were named as the main suspects in 2007. Both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.

Asked if it was possible that Mr Litvinenko ingested the poison when he had acquired the polonium-210 himself, Mrs Litvinenko said: "It's not possible from my point of view. Sasha was (a) very legal person.

"Because using what I believe... nuclear materials... it's illegal and he will not do any illegal things in this country."

Mr Litvinenko, 43, died at the University College Hospital nearly three weeks after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 while meeting two Russian men - one a former KGB officer - at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed in November 2006 on the orders of the Kremlin.

Former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects in the killing, but both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.

Read more: Litvinenko claimed Vladimir Putin was paedophile before death, Inquiry told

Describing the final days of Mr Litvinenko's life, Mrs Litvinenko said he was mostly "speechless" and felt pain all over his body.

As she was leaving at 8pm on November 22 2006, the day before his death, Mrs Litvinenko told the inquiry her husband "smiled so sadly".

"I just said 'don't worry, tomorrow morning, I will come back'," she said. "He said 'I love you so much'."

She added: "It was his last words that I heard."

Mrs Litvinenko earlier described the moment her husband, whom she affectionately knew as Sasha, started to lose his hair as she ran her fingers across his head.

They decided to remove his hair completely and were able to do so by hand it was falling out so easily, she told the inquiry.

Mr Litvinenko signed a statement on his death bed written for him by his friend and solicitor, in which he blamed Mr Putin for his death, his widow told the inquiry.

Mrs Litvinenko said the day her husband fell ill - November 1 2006 - the couple had celebrated the anniversary of their arrival in the UK with a home-cooked meal.

He fell ill that evening, vomiting frequently and experiencing diarrhea and bleeding, the inquiry heard, but it was not until a few days later he was taken to Barnet hospital.

Mrs Litvinenko said her husband was baptised as Russian Orthodox but following a conversation with friend and exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev in hospital decided to convert to Islam.

She told the inquiry he wanted to be buried in Chechen soil, which prompted his decision. An imam was brought to the hospital for a ceremony that lasted a matter of minutes.

Earlier in the meeting, the inquiry was shown footage of Mr Litvinenko addressing a meeting at the Frontline Club about the life and death of Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in her block of flats on October 7 2006.

Standing up and holding a microphone, he speaks in Russian and a member of the panel he is addressing translates his comments into English.

"Mr Putin murdered her," he says.

The inquiry was also shown an email received by Mr Litvinenko in 2002 from a former colleague, in which he was warned of risk to his life. "Get your will ready in advance," the email warns.

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