In Depth

Litvinenko conspiracy theories: who killed former KGB spy?

Public inquiry begins into poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko after eight years of speculation

litvinenko.jpg

A public inquiry into the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko will begin tomorrow, following eight years of speculation and intrigue about his death.

The former Russian spy died in London in November 2006 after consuming a fatal dose of polonium-210 during a meeting with two former KGB contacts at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.

Both men, Andrei Lugovoy (now a Russian MP) and Dmitri Kovtun, have denied involvement and Moscow has refused to extradite them to Britain.

The start of the inquiry comes after years of campaigning by the victim's widow Marina Litvinenko for an official verdict on his death.

During those years, speculation has been rife, with conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories, some involving intricate double-bluff motives leading back to heads of states.

Here are just four of the most commonly circulated theories...

Litvinenko was killed by the Kremlin

This will be one of the key theories examined by the public inquiry. Its chairman Sir Robert Owen has already stated that he has seen "prima facie" evidence that the Russian state was involved in the murder. The Daily Telegraph claims this is likely to include key evidence provided by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which intercepted communications between Litvinenko's murderers. The inquiry will consider whether Litvinenko was attempting to blackmail or sell sensitive information about powerful people in Russia, as well as the potential role of organised crime in his killing. On his deathbed, Litvinenko directly blamed Vladimir Putin, but the Russian President has denied any involvement by the Kremlin.

The Kremlin was framed by MI6

One theory, which has repeatedly reared its head in Russia, is that the Kremlin was framed for Litvinenko's murder. Suspect Lugovoy claimed in 2007 that he had been framed by MI6, which he said had tried and failed to recruit him, reports the LA Times. He also said Litvinenko and the anti-Kremlin billionaire Boris Berezovsky were both MI6 agents, although Berezovsky and the British Embassy in Moscow denied the allegations.

Litvinenko was smuggling polonium

Litvinenko admitted to previously smuggling nuclear material out of Russia for the FSB security service, according to Mario Scaramella, an Italian who met with Litvinenko on the day he was poisoned. The claim has prompted speculation that Litvinenko poisoned himself accidentally while handling radioactive material as part of an illegal nuclear transaction. Russian press suggested he might have been involved in plans by Chechen separatists to create a "dirty bomb". Other conspiracy theorists have even suggested he was smuggling it to al-Qaeda. Litvinenko's wife Marina has dismissed the claims.

Litvinenko committed suicide

Another theory emanating from Lugovoy's camp is that Litvinenko committed suicide. In 2011, the suspect's lawyer urged any British inquest into Litvinenko's death to consider "all other possibilities", including "death by misadventure and suicide". Russian broadsheet Izvestia said that the idea of suicide was not implausible if Litvinenko was suffering from some other fatal disease and suggested he might have used polonium from the batteries of a Soviet moon walker. "If he knew he was dying, he may have taken poison and signed whatever papers his allies brought to him," said the newspaper. Marina's lawyer said the "insulting suggestions of suicide" raised by Lugovoy as a "smokescreen to hide his guilt" must be dispelled.

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