Long-awaited British report to blame Kremlin for ex-KGB spy’s death

Alexander LitvinenkoThe long-awaited concluding report of a public inquiry into the death of a former Soviet spy in London in 2006, is expected to finger the Russian state as the perpetrator of the murder. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning after meeting two former KGB/FSB colleagues, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. In July of 2007, after establishing the cause of Litvinenko’s death, which is attributed to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210, the British government officially charged the two Russians with murder and issued international warrants for their arrest. Whitehall also announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The episode, which was the first public expulsion of Russian envoys from Britain since end of the Cold War, is often cited as marking the beginning of the worsening of relations between the West and post-Soviet Russia.

A public inquiry into the death of Litvinenko, ordered by the British state, has taken over six months to conclude. In the process, the judge in charge, Sir Robert Owen, has heard from 62 witnesses. The latter include members of the Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6, for which the late Russian former spy worked after his arrival in Britain. The release of the inquiry’s report is expected this week. But British media have quoted unnamed “government sources” as saying that the long-awaited document will point to the Russian state as the instigator, planner and execution of Litvinenko’s death. One source was quoted as saying that the report will identify “a clear line of command” and that “it will be very clear that the orders came from the Kremlin”.

It is not believed, however, that the report will point to Russian President Vladimir Putin as having had a role in the former spy’s murder. Nevertheless, there is speculation in London and Moscow about the British government’s possible response to the inquiry’s report. One unnamed source told the British press that the report’s findings would place Whitehall “in a difficult position”, given London’s current cooperation with Russia in Syria. However, the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to face renewed pressure from the public and from opposition parties to take action against Russia, should it be confirmed this week that the Kremlin was indeed behind Litvinenko’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2016 | Permalink

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Chile government report says poet Neruda may have been poisoned

Pablo NerudaA report prepared by the Chilean government considers it “highly likely” that Chile’s Nobel laureate poet, Pablo Neruda, died as a result of deliberate poisoning. The literary icon, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, died on September 23, 1973. His death occurred less than two weeks after a coup d’état, led by General Augusto Pinochet, toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a Marxist who was a close friend of Neruda.

The death of the internationally acclaimed poet, who was 69 at the time, was officially attributed to prostate cancer and the effects of acute mental stress caused by the military coup. In 2013, however, an official investigation was launched into Neruda’s death following allegations that he had been murdered. The investigation was sparked by comments made by Neruda’s personal driver, Manuel Araya, who said that the poet had been deliberately injected with poison while receiving treatment for cancer at the Clinica Santa Maria in Chilean capital Santiago. According to Araya, General Pinochet ordered Neruda’s assassination after he was told that the poet was preparing to seek political asylum in Mexico. The Chilean dictatorship allegedly feared that the Nobel laureate poet would seek to form a government-in-exile and oppose the regime of General Pinochet.

In April of that year, a complex autopsy was performed on Neruda’s exhumed remains, but was inconclusive. On November 6, however, Spanish newspaper El País said it had been given access to a report prepared by Chile’s Ministry of the Interior. The report allegedly argues that it was unlikely that Neruda’s death was the “consequence of his prostate cancer”. According to El País, the document states that it was “manifestly possible and highly probable” that the poet’s death was the outcome of “direct intervention by third parties”. The report also explains that Neruda’s alleged murder resulted from a fast-acting substance that was injected into his body or entered it orally.

The report obtained by El País was produced for an ongoing legal probe into Neruda’s death, which is being supervised by Mario Carroza Espinosa, one of Chile’s most high-profile judges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

French prosecutors urge end to Yasser Arafat poisoning inquiry

Arafat funeralA government prosecutor in France has urged that a probe looking into whether the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned with a radioactive substance should be dropped, because evidence shows he died of natural causes. Arafat was the founder of Palestinian nationalist group Fatah and led the Palestine Liberation Organization for over three decades before becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority. He died in November 2004 at the Percy military hospital in Paris, France, weeks after being transferred there from his headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. His official records indicate that he died from a stroke, which he suffered as a result of a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

However, a year-long investigation by a team of forensic pathologists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggested in 2013 that the late Palestinian leader was likely poisoned with radioactive polonium. According to the results of the study, which included tests on Arafat’s bones and on soil samples from around his corpse, there was “unexpected high activity” of polonium-210. Traces of the same substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days in Paris. The Swiss lab followed its probe with a second set of tests, which confirmed the initial results and were eventually published in the British peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

The Swiss investigation prompted Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, to file a civil suit at a court in Nanterre, which launched a murder inquiry in August 2012. Further tests were carried out on Arafat’s belongings and his body was exhumed from its burial place in Ramallah. Tests were also carried out by the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which concluded that the late Palestinian statesman had died “not from the effects of radiation, but of natural causes”. The French inquiry was concluded in April of this year, and the results communicated to the French government prosecutor in Nanterre, Catherine Denis.

On Tuesday, Denis said she had studied the results of the medical investigation and had concluded that the polonium-210 isotopes found in Arafat’s remains and at his gravesite, were without question “of an environmental nature”. Consequently, the case should be dismissed, she said, adding that her view represented the opinion of the prosecution in the case of Arafat’s alleged poisoning. The court must now determine whether to accept the prosecutor’s advice or continue with the case, as is the wish of Arafat’s family.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/22/01-1740/

Murder suspect to give evidence on death of ex-KGB spy in London

Alexander LitvinenkoA Russian former intelligence officer, who is accused by the British government of having killed a former KGB spy in London, has agreed to testify at a public inquiry to be held in the British capital next month. British government prosecutors believe Russian businessman Dmitri Kovtun, who worked for the KGB during the Cold War, poisoned his former colleague in the KGB, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. Litvinenko was an officer in the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting Kovtun and another former KGB officer, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. He was dead less than two weeks later.

In July of 2007, after establishing the cause of Litvinenko’s death, which is attributed to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210, the British government officially charged 1 Kovtun and Lugovoy with murder and issued international arrest warrants for their arrest. Soon afterwards, Whitehall announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The episode, which was the first public expulsion of Russian envoys from Britain since end of the Cold War, is often cited as marking the beginning of the worsening of relations between the West and post-Soviet Russia.

Since 2007, when they were officially charged with murder, Kovtun and Lugovoy deny the British government’s accusations, and claim that Litvinenko poisoned himself by accident while trading in illegal nuclear substances. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to extradite the two former KGB officers to London, and has denounced the British public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death as “a sham”. However, last March Kovtun unexpectedly wrote to the presiding judge at the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, offering to testify via a live video link from Moscow. On Monday, Sir Robert issued a statement 2 saying an agreement had been struck between Kovtun and the inquiry, and that the Russian businessman would testify from Moscow, “most likely towards the end of next month”. Kovtun is expected to confirm that he met Litvinenko in London on the day the former KGB spy fell ill, but to insist that he had no role in poisoning him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/16/01-1715/

Russian whistleblower who died in 2012 may have been poisoned

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA Russian businessman, who died in London while assisting a Swiss probe into a massive money-laundering scheme, may have been poisoned with a substance derived from a highly toxic plant, an inquest has heard. Aleksandr Perepilichny was an influential Moscow investment banker until he fled Russia in 2009, saying that his life had been threatened after a disagreement with his business partners. A few months later, having moved to an exclusive district in Surrey, south of London, Perepilichny began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multi-million dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. The scheme, uncovered by a hedge fund firm called Hermitage Capital Management (CMP), and described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million. The case made international headlines in 2009, when one of its key figures, a CMP lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, died in mysterious circumstances while being held in a Russian prison. After Magnitsky’s death, Perepilichny said he too had been warned in no uncertain terms that his name featured on a Russian mafia hit list.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home after a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination by police concluded that he had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing on Monday that, according to new medical evidence, Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of a poisonous plant. The shrub-like plant, known as gelsemium, is extremely rare and mostly grows in remote parts of China. One of the lawyers, Bob Moxon-Browne, claimed at the hearing that gelsemium is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”. The Perepilichny family’s legal team said that further forensic tests are to be carried out, so that the claim of poisoning can be examined in more detail.

Peru recalls ambassador from Chile as espionage probe widens

Ollanta HumalaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Peru has officially recalled its ambassador from Chile as it investigates three Peruvian naval officers who are said to have passed military secrets to Chilean intelligence. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced on Saturday that the decision had been taken to recall the country’s ambassador from Santiago following an emergency meeting of the cabinet. The espionage allegations against the three officers appeared in the Peruvian media last Thursday. Several leading newspapers, among them the Lima-based El Comercio, said the three junior Peruvian officers were suspected of having spied for Chile from 2005 to 2012.

On the following day, Peru’s Minister of National Defense, Pedro Cateriano, officially confirmed the reports and said two of the officers had been arrested and would be tried in a military court. A third one was being investigated for possible connections with the Chilean spy ring, said Cateriano. According to the Peruvian government, the naval officers stole classified military documents and passed them on to their Chilean handlers in exchange for money. They are alleged to have traveled abroad on several instances between 2005 and 2012, in order to conduct secret meetings with Chilean diplomats and intelligence officers, in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and even Argentina itself. It was there, according to reports from Peru, that the three alleged spies passed on classified information to their handlers. Defense Minister Cateriano implied on Friday that the officers came under suspicion when their superiors, who knew the level of their government pay, deduced that they did not have sufficient funds to pay for international travel, and concluded that someone else must be funding their frequent trips abroad.

Following an emergency session on Friday, the Peruvian Congress issued a statement urging Chile to provide “firm guarantees” that such “aggressive actions” against Peruvian sovereignty would not be repeated. The Chilean government said late on Friday that it did not condone or promote espionage. But Peruvian President Humala told reporters on Saturday that a more precise and direct answer was in order. The two naval officers are not expected to stand trial until the summer. Meanwhile, authorities in Peru say they are investigating possible involvement by high-ranking military officers in the alleged spy ring.

Arafat ‘may have been poisoned’, claims Swiss forensic report

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A forensic investigation by Swiss researchers into the death of Yasser Arafat states that the data “moderately suggests” that the Palestinian statesman may have been poisoned with a deadly radioactive substance. The founder of Palestinian nationalist group Fatah, who led the Palestine Liberation Organization for over three decades before becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority, passed away in November 2004 at the Percy military hospital in Paris, France. His official records indicate that he died from a stroke, which he suffered as a result of a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation. However, a year-long investigation by a team of forensic pathologists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggests that the late Palestinian leader is likely to have been poisoned with radioactive polonium. According to the results of the study, published by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, tests on Arafat’s bones and on soil samples from around his corpse, showed “unexpected high activity” of polonium 210. Traces of the same substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days while in hospital in Paris. According to the study, some of the Fatah leader’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The BBC spoke to Dr. Paddy Regan, of the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, who specializes in the detection and measurement of radiation. He said the Swiss study had delivered “a pretty strong statement” in support of the theory that Arafat was poisoned. Read more of this post