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Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko was a British naturalised Russian defector and former officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialised in tackling organized crime. According to US diplomats, Litvinenko coined the phrase "Mafia state."
Alexander Litvinenko was born in the Russian city of Voronezh in 1962. After he graduated from a Nalchik secondary school in 1980, he was drafted into the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a Private. After a year of service, he matriculated in the Kirov Higher Command School in Vladikavkaz. In 1981, Litvinenko married Nataliya, an accountant, with whom he had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sonia. This marriage ended in divorce in 1994 and in the same year Litvinenko married Marina, a ballroom dancer and fitness instructor, with whom he had a son, Anatoly. After graduation in 1985, Litvinenko became a platoon commander in the Dzerzhinsky Division of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was assigned to the 4th Company of 4th Regiment, where among his duties was the protection of valuable cargo while in transit. In 1986, he became an informant when he was recruited by the MVD's KGB counterintelligence section and in 1988, he was officially transferred to the Third Chief Directorate of the KGB, Military Counter Intelligence. Later that year, after studying for a year at the Novosibirsk Military Counter Intelligence School, he became an operational officer and served in KGB military counterintelligence until 1991.
In 1991, Litvinenko was promoted to the Central Staff of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, specialising in counter-terrorist activities and infiltration of organised crime. He was awarded the title of "MUR veteran" for operations conducted with the Moscow criminal investigation department, the MUR. Litvinenko also saw active military service in many of the so-called "hot spots" of the former USSR and Russia. During the First Chechen War, Litvinenko planted several FSB agents in Chechnya. Although he was often called a "Russian spy" by western press, throughout his career he was not an 'intelligence agent' and did not deal with secrets beyond information on operations against organised criminal groups.
Litvinenko met Boris Berezovsky in 1994 when he took part in investigations into an assassination attempt on the oligarch. He later was responsible for the oligarch's security. Litvinenko's employment under Berezovsky and other security services created a conflict of interest, but such practice is usually tolerated by the Russian state.
In 1997, Litvinenko was promoted to the FSB Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups, with the title of senior operational officer and deputy head of the Seventh Section.
During his work in the FSB, Litvinenko discovered numerous connections between top brass of Russian law enforcement agencies and Russian mafia groups, such as the Solntsevo gang. He wrote a memorandum about this issue for Boris Yeltsin. Berezovsky arranged a meeting for him with FSB director Mikhail Barsukov and Deputy Director of Internal affairs Ovchinnikov to discuss the corruption problems; however, this had no effect. Litvinenko gradually realized that the entire system was corrupted from the top to the bottom. He explained: "If your partner bilked you, or a creditor did not pay, or a supplier did not deliver - where did you turn to complain? ...When force became a commodity, there was always demand for it. "Roofs" appeared, people who sheltered and protected your business. First it was provided by the mob, then by police, and soon even our own guys realized what was what, and then the rivalry began among gangsters, cops, and the Agency for market share. As the police and the FSB became more competitive, they squeezed the gangs out of the market. However, in many cases competition gave way to cooperation, and the services became gangsters themselves." According to US diplomats, Litvinenko coined the phrase "Mafia state".
On 25 July 1998, Berezovsky introduced Litvinenko to Vladimir Putin. He said: "Go see Putin. Make yourself known. See what a great guy we have installed, with your help." On the same day, Putin replaced Nikolay Kovalyov as the Director of the Federal Security Service, with help from Berezovsky. Litvinenko reported to Putin on corruption in the FSB, but Putin was unimpressed. Litvinenko said to his wife after the meeting: "I could see in his eyes that he hated me." Litvinenko said later that he was doing an investigation of Uzbek drug barons who received protection from the FSB, and Putin tried to stall the investigation to save his reputation.
On 13 November 1998, Berezovsky wrote an open letter to Putin in Kommersant. He accused senior officers of the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups Major-General Yevgeny Khokholkov, N. Stepanov, A. Kamyshnikov, and N. Yenin of ordering his assassination.
Four days later, on 17 November, Litvinenko and four other officers appeared together in a press conference at the Russian news agency Interfax. All officers worked for both FSB in the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups. They repeated the allegation made by Berezovsky. The officers also said they were ordered to kill Mikhail Trepashkin who was also present at the press conference, and to kidnap a brother of the businessman Umar Dzhabrailov. In 2007, Sergey Dorenko provided the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal with a complete copy of an interview he conducted in April 1998 for ORT, a television station, with Litvinenko and his fellow employees. The interview, of which only excerpts were broadcast in 1998, shows the FSB officers, who were disguised in masks or dark glasses, claim that their bosses had ordered them to kill, kidnap or frame prominent Russian politicians and business people.
After holding the press conference, Litvinenko was dismissed from the FSB. Later, in an interview with Yelena Tregubova, Putin said that he personally ordered the dismissal of Litvinenko, stating, "I fired Litvinenko and disbanded his unit ...because FSB officers should not stage press conferences. This is not their job. And they should not make internal scandals public." Litvinenko also believed that Putin was behind his arrest. He said, "Putin had the power to decide whether to pass my file to the prosecutors or not. He always hated me. And there was a bonus for him: by throwing me to the wolves he distanced himself from Boris [Berezovsky] in the eyes of FSB's generals."
In October 2000, in violation of an order not to leave Moscow, Litvinenko and his family travelled to Turkey, possibly via Ukraine. While in Turkey, Litvinenko applied for asylum at the United States Embassy in Ankara, but his application was denied. With the help of Alexander Goldfarb, Litvinenko bought air tickets for the Istanbul-London-Moscow flight, and asked for political asylum at Heathrow Airport during the transit stop on 1 November 2000. Political asylum was granted on 14 May 2001, not because of his knowledge on intelligence matters, according to Litvinenko, but rather on humanitarian grounds. While in London he became a journalist for Chechenpress and an author. He also joined Berezovsky in campaigning against Putin's government. In October 2006, he became a naturalised British citizen with residence in Whitehaven.
In 2002, Litvinenko was convicted in absentia in Russia and given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence for charges of corruption. According to Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, her husband cooperated with the British security services, working as a consultant and helping the agencies to combat Russian organised crime in Europe. During the public inquiry started in January 2015, it was confirmed that Litvinenko was recruited by MI6 to provide "useful information about senior Kremlin figures and their links with Russian organised crime", primarily related to Russian mafia activities in Spain.
Shortly before his death, Litvinenko tipped off Spanish authorities on several organised crime bosses with links to Spain. During a meeting in May 2006 he allegedly provided security officials with information on the locations, roles, and activities of several "Russian" mafia figures with ties to Spain, including Zahkar Kalashov, Izguilov and Tariel Oniani.
Litvinenko converted to Islam in Britain. Visitors to Litvinenko's deathbed included Boris Berezovsky and Litvinenko's father, Walter, who flew in from Moscow. Litvinenko told his father he had converted to Islam. Mrs Litvinenko said his father commented about it: "It doesn't matter. At least you're not a communist."
Mikhail Trepashkin said that in 2002 he had warned Litvinenko that an FSB unit was assigned to assassinate him. In spite of this, Litvinenko often travelled overseas with no security arrangements, and freely mingled with the Russian community in the United Kingdom, and often received journalists at his home.
On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill. On 3 November, he was admitted to Barnet General Hospital in London. He was then moved to University College Hospital for intensive care. His illness was later attributed to poisoning with radionuclide polonium-210 after the Health Protection Agency found significant amounts of the rare and highly toxic element in his body.
Litvinenko met with two former agents early on the day he fell ill – Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy. Though both denied any wrongdoing, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed that Kovtun had left polonium traces in the house and car he had used in Hamburg. The men also introduced Litvinenko to a tall, thin man of central Asian appearance called 'Vladislav Sokolenko' who Lugovoy said was a business partner. Lugovoy is also a former bodyguard of Russian ex-Acting Prime minister Yegor Gaidar (who also suffered from a mysterious illness in November 2006). Later, Litvinenko had lunch at Itsu, a sushi restaurant in Piccadilly in London, with an Italian acquaintance and nuclear waste expert, Mario Scaramella, to whom he made the allegations regarding Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Scaramella, attached to the Mitrokhin Commission investigating KGB penetration of Italian politics, claimed to have information on the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist who was killed at her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.
Marina Litvinenko, his widow, accused Moscow of orchestrating the murder. Though she believes the order did not come from Putin himself, she does believe it was done at the behest of the authorities, and announced that she will refuse to provide evidence to any Russian investigation out of fear that it would be misused or misrepresented. In a court hearing in London in 2015, a Scotland Yard lawyer concluded that "the evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko's murder".
Before his death, Litvinenko said: "You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life." On 22 November 2006, Litvinenko's medical staff at University College Hospital reported Litvinenko had suffered a "major setback" due to either heart failure or an overnight heart attack. He died on 23 November. The following day, Putin publicly stated: “Mr Litvinenko is, unfortunately, not Lazarus”.
Scotland Yard stated that inquiries into the circumstances of how Litvinenko became ill would continue.
On 24 November 2006, a posthumous statement was released, in which Litvinenko named Putin as the man behind his poisoning. Litvinenko's friend Alex Goldfarb, who was also the chairman of Boris Berezovsky's Civil Liberties Fund, claimed Litvinenko had dictated it to him three days earlier. Andrei Nekrasov said his friend Litvinenko and Litvinenko's lawyer had composed the statement in Russian on 21 November and translated it to English.
Putin disputed the authenticity of this note while attending a Russia-EU summit in Helsinki and claimed it was being used for political purposes. Goldfarb later stated that Litvinenko, on his deathbed, had instructed him to write a note "in good English" in which Putin was to be accused of his poisoning. Goldfarb also stated that he read the note to Litvinenko in English and Russian and Litvinenko agreed "with every word of it" and signed it.
His autopsy took place on 1 December at the Royal London Hospital's institute of pathology. It was attended by three physicians, including one chosen by the family and one from the Foreign Office. Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery (West side) in north London on 7 December. The police treated his death as a murder, although the London coroner's inquest was yet to be completed. On 25 November, two days after Litvinenko's death, an article attributed to him was published by The Mail on Sunday entitled "Why I believe Putin wanted me dead".
In an interview with the BBC broadcast on 16 December 2006, Yuri Shvets said that Litvinenko had created a 'due diligence' report investigating the activities of an unnamed senior Kremlin official on behalf of a British company looking to invest "dozens of millions of dollars" in a project in Russia, and that the dossier contained damaging information about the senior Kremlin official. He said he was interviewed about his allegations by Scotland Yard detectives investigating Litvinenko's murder. British media reported that the poisoning and consequent death of Litvinenko was not widely covered in the Russian news media.
On 7 December 2006, Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery with Muslim rites, including a Muslim prayer being said by an imam invited by Akhmed Zakayev, contrary to his wife's wishes of a non-denominational service at the grave. The funeral ceremony was followed by a private memorial at which the ensemble Tonus Peregrinus sang sacred music by Russian composers Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Victor Kalinnikov, and three works by British composer Antony Pitts.
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