By Luke Harding
1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in valuable London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; a unprecedented, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.
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Extra info for A Very Expensive Poison
The FSB used this attempted assassination as an excuse to dispatch Litvinenko to investigate Berezovsky and keep an eye on his affairs. This was the beginning of a relationship that would define Litvinenko’s life. In March 1995, a gunman shot dead Vladimir Listyev, Russia’s most popular TV anchor, in the stairwell of his Moscow apartment. Listyev was the head of ORT, Russia’s first channel. Suspicion fell on Berezovsky, who had just taken over ORT together with a Georgian billionaire, Badri Patarkatsishvili.
He avoided eye contact and behaved as if he was not the Director but an actor playing the Director’s role on stage. He looked at my schematic, made some face movements as if he was studying it for a couple of minutes. Asked a couple of questions – ‘What is this? ’ – pointing at random points in the scheme. But he obviously could not grasp the details in that short while. ’ I thought. ’ I asked. ‘No, no, thank you. You keep it. ’ Litvinenko handed Putin a list of FSB officers whom he regarded as ‘clean’, and remarked that there were still ‘honest people in the system’.
Litvinenko and Shvets were a good team. Shvets had a wide network of intelligence sources inside Russia who provided him with real information. Litvinenko, meanwhile, had worked for the FSB in the 1990s in the department tasked with fighting organised crime. He had direct knowledge of its operations. Litvinenko’s English was poor, but Shvets, a long-term resident of the US, could write in fluent sentences. They worked together via email and phone calls from America to Britain. On 19 September 2006, Litvinenko gave the eight-page report to RISC.