It's official — Vladimir Putin had reason to want the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko dead and probably ordered his murder, an inquiry into his death has concluded.
Litvinenko died in London in December 2006, three weeks after consuming a "colossal" amount of the radioactive substance polonium-210. It was only in the hours before he died that his poisoning was discovered, following an analysis of his urine by British nuclear weapons experts.
An inquiry headed by retired high court judge Sir Robert Owen released its final report on Thursday, concluding that Russian men Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi poisoned him and there was a strong probability they were directed to do so by the Russian intelligence agency FSB. The operation was "probably" approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, it said.
Former Russian spy Kovtun and former KGB agent Lugovoi left trails of radioactive polonium behind them during multiple trips to the UK — it was detectable in the airplanes they traveled in, the hotel rooms they stayed in, and on the shisha pipe one of them smoked. VICE News retraced some of the steps they and Litvinenko took following the poisoning.
The Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square is where Litvinenko was poisoned, said the inquiry, with polonium slipped into the green tea he drank by Kovtun and Lugovoi. The Pine Bar is on the left when you come in the entrance. "The elegant and sophisticated Pine Bar is furnished with luxurious leather banquettes and comfortable armchairs," boasts the hotel's promotional materials. "Wood panels and dramatic flock wallpaper exude glamour, while the gorgeous black chandeliers cast a warm glow over the tables, creating a perfect setting for afternoon tea."
Kovtun and Lugovoi also met Litvinenko at the hotel on October 16, two weeks before the fatal meeting — the assassins' trails of polonium started then.
After he met Kovtun and Lugovoi at the Millennium Hotel, Litvinenko stopped of at the office of his friend and former employee, the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky's office, on 7 Down Street, off Hyde Park. Lugovoi had also visited Berezovsky in the days before the poisoning, when he was already leaving traces of polonium.
The same day that Litvinenko drank tea with Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, he had lunch with Italian academic Mario Scaramella at an Itsu sushi restaurant in central London, where he is said to have received documents about the death of Anna Politkovskaya, a long-term critic of the FSB. The Itsu had to be sealed off, like various other locations, and hundreds of people got in touch with authorities or doctors to say they had visited places where polonium had been found, around the time of the poisoning. About 700 people were tested but none were seriously ill.
Traces of polonium went on to be found by detectives in various locations across London, with three distinct trails eventually traced — left by Litvinenko, Lugovoi, and Kovtun. Some of the traces were found at the lap dancing bar Hey Jo at 91 Jermyn Street, central London.
Polonium traces were found in the Emirates Stadium in Holloway, London, the home of Arsenal Football Club, where Lugovoi attended a soccer match with his family. They were also found on two planes at Heathrow Airport, at the British embassy in Moscow and at a flat in Hamburg, Germany, linked to Kovtun.
Litvinenko died on November 23, 2006, at the University College Hospital, London. His friend Alex Goldfarb later read a statement on the steps. It was written by Litvinenko and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of involvement in his death. Protest "will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life," it said.
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