Litvinenko's widow tells probe Putin had links to crime
FORMER Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko - who was killed with polonium in London - believed Vladimir Putin lacked the mettle to stamp out corruption in the security service and had links to organised crime, his widow said yesterday.
Giving evidence to a public inquiry at London's High Court into the former spy's death, Marina Litvinenko said her husband had taken his concerns in 1998 to Mr Putin, who then headed the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Ms Litvinenko said Mr Putin, who on December 31, 1999, would become Russia's acting president, had done nothing and that shortly after raising his concerns, Mr Litvinenko himself, known to his family as Sasha, had come under investigation.
"Sasha said it was not a productive meeting at all because he didn't believe his (Mr Putin's) professional skills, he didn't believe he could make any change," she said.
Mr Litvinenko, who served in the KGB and then the FSB unit dealing with organised crime, doubted Mr Putin's ability because he had become director of the FSB without doing work "on the ground", added the 52-year-old widow.
Mr Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210, which British police believe he was given by two Russians he had met in London.
The main suspects, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, deny involvement. Russia has refused to extradite them to face trial.
The inquiry, which opened last week, has also heard that Mr Litvinenko had told police that Mr Putin, who served as a KGB spy in East Germany, ordered his killing. The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed the accusation as nonsense.
According to his widow, Mr Litvinenko had also suspected Mr Putin, who became first deputy mayor of St Petersburg in 1994, of having links to the criminal gangs which mushroomed as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
"On the position of being Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg, Sasha believed he was involved in some crime connections," said Ms Litvinenko, who said Russia's second city was the crime capital of Russia at that time.
Leaked cables show that US diplomats viewed Mr Putin as a leader who ruled by allowing crooked spies and corrupt officials to siphon off cash from Russia, the world's biggest energy producer. The Kremlin has dismissed the claims.
Ms Litvinenko told the inquiry her husband had first begun to have doubts about the actions of the FSB during the war against Chechen separatists in 1994. By 1998, he was working for a secret unit of the agency known as URPO, which investigated organised economic crime, and had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The hearing continues.