May 22 2007

Lugovoi Watch

I am in a rare mood of unbridled anticipation as the Litvinenko story is about to take a big, big turn. With the news this week that UK authorities had decided to charge Andre Lugovoi with premeditated murder by use of Po-210 (a crazy idea all around) I thought we would have to wait until a trial that would never happen to get a look at the evidence and weigh the two prominent theories in this case. The UK police have gone with the Berezovsky PR fed theory where Litvinenko (the small time, never before heard of Putin critic) suddenly becomes worthy of a risky, expensive, PR-disaster prone political hit by the Russian government or power brokers (if there is a difference).

The other theory to which I subscribe (and may have been a source of – who knows) is the one where Berezovsky was coordinating a smuggling effort of Po-210 into Russia using is two previous employees (yes, Lugovoi was Berezovsky’s bodyguard and also guarded his daughter) to move the material into Russia in order to plant evidence against Putin to foment the coup d’etat Berezovsky has been promising for years now. In this theory Lugovoi was an unwitting mule moving the material passed to him by Litvinenko on each of his trips and meetings in London. In this theory (supported by claims and the behavior of Lugovio, Kovtun and Berezovsky) Lugovoi – when he realized he too was poisoned with his family – decides to turn state’s evidence in Russia. The much reported delay in the UK authorities questioning Lugovoi and Kovtun was highly indicative if the time needed to finalize plea agreements. And unlike Berezovsky and his PR machine, Lugovoi and Kovtun have repeatedly said they will not discuss details because they promised authorities they would not disclose details of the case

Berezovsky has shown the opposite behavior and has thrown out wild theories and accusations on a weekly basis for months. He also refused to discuss financial arrangements he had with Litvinenko which could lead to evidence of a smuggling effort and payoffs. So on the face of it the idea of Lugovoi and Kovtun as witnesses is very plausible. So what has me so excited? Lugovoi has made it clear he will be releasing a statement this week (i.e., presenting new, never reported details) that I suspect will turn the UK view of the incident on its head. In fact Lugovoi almost guarantees this will be the reaction:

Mr Lugovoi said: “Within the next week we’ll make a statement regarding events in which Litvinenko and myself were involved last year. I think I’ll say a few things which will be sensational to a British audience. “

Emphasis mine. We know Lugovoi traveled to London to meet Litvinenko and Berezovsky. We know the Po-210 trail follows Litvinenko more than Lugovoi. We know Berezovsky’s office is one of the more contaminated locations. We know more Po-210 was probably smuggled through London than ended up killing Litvinenko. We know the hottest spot on the trail was in Lugovoi’s hotel room in the Millenium Hotel. We know the teapot found with massive contamination was in circulation for week’s in the hotel and cannot be tied to Lugovoi (unless he testified to its role). We know the teapot was discovered AFTER the Lugovoi interview, as was the contamination at another London restaurant favored by Litvinenko and Berezovsky associates. What we know can fit both theories, but if Litvinenko and Lugovoi were working TOGETHER then the case for murder weakens and the case of a botched smuggling ring strengthens.

One thing is clear – Lugovoi has strong ties to Litvinenko and Berzovsky.

Mr Lugovoy was a bodyguard in the KGB’s Ninth Directorate, responsible for protecting Kremlin officials in the 1990s, including the Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. He left government service and became head of security at the Russian Public Television channel ORT, then controlled by Mr Berezovsky. He told The Times last year that he became friends at the time with Litvinenko, who was working with the oligarch.

Mr Lugovoy also remained close to the billionaire and was jailed in 2001 for his part in an attempt to free the former deputy director of Aeroflot, Nikolai Glushkov, from custody on fraud charges. Mr Glushkov was a friend of Mr Berezovsky, who is wanted in Russia on fraud charges.

He said that he had lost contact with Litvinenko until he received a telephone call from him early last year with the offer of cooperation on a business venture involving a British company keen to work in Russia.

He introduced Litvinenko to Mr Kovtun last October when the three ate sushi together at the Itsu restaurant in Piccadilly. Litvinenko met the Italian investigator Mario Scaramella at the same restaurant two weeks later.

Lugovoi had his family with him on the trip that saw Litvinenko taken ill. No assassin would risk his family like that. Lugovoi was having meetings 2-3 times a month for over a year with Litvinenko. There were plenty of opportunities without his kids around. Same thing with Kovtun – the third Russian with Po-210 poisoning. He contaminated his family’s homes in Germany – not something an assassin would do.

What is clear is Lugovoi promises new and sensational information. And I hope it will put to rest one theory or the other. The media has been working with Hollywood-style theories. Hopefully some cold sober reality will now descend on this topic. Because if it was smuggling, every person in the West needs to take note of what could have been a nuclear attack in the making.

Update: It seems Lugovoi has some dirt on Litvinenko and Berezovsky going back a few years:

He [Lugovoi] promised a statement that would be “sensational for public opinion in Britain and that would fundamentally change the perceptions of the events that have occurred in the past years in Britain surrounding certain individuals of Russian origin”.

We know Litvinenko and Lugovoi had been meeting quite regularly for at least a year. If this was a smuggling operation, then the planning and preparations would go on for at least a year or more. Smuggling nuclear material is not something you do in haste. This could be really, really sensational – as Lugovoi claims.

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