Skip to comments.Focus: Cracking the code of the nuclear assassin (incredibly comprehensive article on Litvinenko)
Posted on 12/02/2006 5:43:22 PM PST by jdm
You would be hard put to find better cover to assassinate an exiled Russian dissident. On Wednesday, November 1, hundreds of Russians were in London to watch Arsenal play CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. Among all the families, groups and individual supporters arriving from Moscow, a killer, or killers, could hope for anonymity.
After the evening kick-off at the spectacular new Emirates stadium in north London, Arsenal wasted three good chances on goal. The match ended in a draw. Elsewhere in the capital, however, someone had struck with lethal accuracy.
That evening in Muswell Hill, a little north of Arsenal, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy and enemy of Vladimir Putins regime, became ill and began vomiting.
Within days he was in hospital; by November 23 he was dead, his internal organs destroyed by a rare radioactive isotope called polonium-210.
This murder and it looks increasingly like a cunning, ruthless murder has sparked a huge police investigation that has uncovered radiation at 12 sites across London and on two British Airways planes that had flown between London and Moscow.
British Airways has had to warn 33,000 passengers who travelled on flights in the contaminated planes. Thousands of people have contacted the NHS, worried that they may have come into contact with polonium.
Though the risk to their health is said to be minimal, the chief medical officer was impelled to warn doctors that the symptoms of poisoning from tiny amounts of polonium might not appear for up to four weeks, a deadline that ran out last week.
The affair also threatens a diplomatic crisis as accusations fly that the Russian security service, or rogue elements of it, are behind Litvinenkos death. It has prompted statements in parliament and hurried meetings of Cobra, the government committee that handles emergencies.
The cabinet was briefed about the affair on Thursday. According to authoritative sources, John Reid, the home secretary, described Litvinenkos background in the Russian security service and also said he had been involved with organised crime as have many former Russian security personnel.
Reid said about 20 sites more than publicly admitted were being investigated for radiation. Ministers were warned there was a danger of the health system being overloaded. Ministers were also told that Russia had complained about the publication of a deathbed statement by Litvinenko, blaming Putin for his killing.
Tony Blair told ministers his prime concern was the damage the Litvinenko affair might do to relations with Russia. The most important thing, Blair told cabinet, was to manage the relationship with Russia.
For if the case of the poisoned spy is down to a foreign assassin it is an unprecedented nuclear attack on British soil. There is a temptation for those concerned with the political fallout to clutch at alternative scenarios to a killing by a Kremlin hitman.
A senior Scotland Yard source said yesterday that investigators are closing in on a suspect. Hunting with radiation detectors, the police have been painstakingly reconstructing Litvinenkos movements on November 1, trying to identify where he went and who he met.
Late last week police were still working behind a sealed-off part of the eighth floor of the Sheraton Park Lane hotel after finding traces of polonium.
They were investigating a Russian guest whose room had shown signs of contamination before November 1. If so, it would be a strong clue to the origins of the polonium.
The police were giving nothing away about the identity of their target. But The Sunday Times has established that a former Russian agent called Andrei Lugovoi, who was known to Litvinenko, stayed in the hotel in the days before November 1 and that he is he says significantly contaminated with polonium.
Litvinenkos close friends believe Lugovoi is deeply involved, either knowingly or unknowingly, in the poisoning. But Lugovoi and his business partner, Dimitri Kovtun, who also visited London, vehemently deny involvement and say they have been set up as fall guys.
Lugovoi has claimed: Traces were found even on my children and on my wife. To think that I would handle the stuff and put them at risk is simply ludicrous.
Though it remains hedged in murk and mystery, a few firm findings are emerging from the fog of conspiracy theories.
- Polonium-210 of the quantity and purity used to kill Litvinenko is difficult to obtain, and cannot simply be ordered over the internet. The amount used, more than 100 times a lethal dose, implies it was obtained either from a reactor or in an unusually large commercial transaction that would have raised eyebrows.
- Though some polonium is imported into Britain, no polonium is made here and none has been reported missing. This indicates that the isotope was smuggled into the country.
- Litvinenko was contaminated on November 1 and not before. Yet it is thought traces of polonium on a plane and in a London hotel date from October 25.
- Police have identified a trail of polonium residues at 12 sites across London, including a restaurant, two hotels, some offices and Litvinenkos home.
- So far only Litvinenko, his wife Marina and Mario Scaramella, an Italian who met Litvinenko on November 1, have tested positive for absorbing polonium into their bodies. Marina and Scaramella have far lower levels of contamination than Litvinenko suffered and as yet are reportedly showing no ill-effects.
THE more that emerges about Litvinenkos death, the more polonium is revealed as an extraordinary weapon for assassination. Though it leaves a radiation trail, this is of usually benign alpha particles that do not register on normal geiger counters. The assassin or assassins may have gambled it would never be detected.
There are three basic types of radioactive particles or rays: alpha, beta and gamma. Gamma are generally regarded as the most deadly because they are a powerful penetrator of solid objects. Alpha radiation, on the other hand, can be stopped by something as thin as a piece of paper or skin.
As far as I know this is the first person ever to have died of an overdose of alpha radiation, said Nick Priest, the former head of biomedical research at the Atomic Energy Authority. I cant think of any other case where a lethal dose has been administered by alpha radiation.
Only if a substance emitting alpha particles gets inside the body and dissolves into the bloodstream does it slowly wreak havoc.
This is why doctors treating Litvinenko when he fell ill were baffled. He exhibited classic signs of radiation poisoning, including vomiting, hair loss and organ failure. But when they tested for gamma radiation with a geiger counter, they found nothing unusual.
The police who interviewed Litvinenko in hospital initially did not know what had caused his illness and had little to go on. There was no trail to follow.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA), a body that merged with the National Radiological Protection Board in 2005, was out of its depth. Polonium is so rare that nobody thought to look for it.
Eventually a sample of Litvinenkos urine was sent for testing at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston. Again geiger counters showed only a tiny amount more gamma radiation than the normal background level. In the end scientists decided to use an alpha detector and were shocked to find a stream of helium nuclei being emitted from the sample.
This, though, was only part of the answer, since various substances emit alpha particles, and they wanted to identify the precise emitter. Once again there was a risk of polonium remaining undetected since it is notoriously difficult to isolate.
Its not easy because the standard methods you use do not work for polonium, said Priest. The methods were worked out at Aldermaston.
In typical testing of a sample, organic matter is burnt off to leave foreign substances. But that might easily have vaporised the polonium as well, leaving no trace of the poison.
It was only the skills and experience of the AWE, which used to process polonium for use in the triggers in nuclear bombs, that led to the substance being identified.
A tiny amount of thallium, a common impurity in polonium and a poison in its own right, was also found. Polonium is typically made by bombarding bismuth-209, a heavy metal similar to antimony, with neutrons to make bismuth-210, which rapidly decays into polonium-210. But bismuth can also decay into thallium-206 which is why polonium often has traces of thallium as well.
The discovery of what had poisoned Litvinenko was made only hours before he died; but even if it had been made earlier it would have been too late to save him. There is no known cure for polonium poisoning of the level he suffered.
Even a minute quantity a fraction of a gram can be lethal. Litvinenko received, according to sources at the HPA, enough to to give him several gigabecquerels of radiation. This was 100 times or more the amount needed to kill him.
It is such an active substance that the minute it becomes a weighable quantity youre in trouble, said a former atomic weapons technician. Even half a gram was like 20 tons of more common radioactive material. Where could the dose that killed Litvinenko have come from?
Much was made last week of the fact that polonium is used in common physics devices used to demonstrate alpha radiation that can be bought for £35. But the amount they contain is minute: to extract the level that poisoned Litvinenko, his killers would have to have dismantled thousands of the devices and manipulated thousands of tiny pieces of polonium. This, say experts, is a complete non-starter. The source has to be more sophisticated.
You can buy commercially made polonium . . . in France, the US and Russia, said Priest. But I really dont think you can buy it in those sort of quantities without raising eyebrows.
Last week a Sunday Times reporter approached Techsnabexport, a Moscow nuclear research reactor, posing as a commercial buyer seeking polonium-210. She was told it would require a special licence that would take about three months to obtain.
In theory it is possible, therefore, that a criminal gang could have bought polonium, with careful planning and forged documents. But it would be even more accessible to an organisation such as state intelligence service.
LITVINENKO was an energetic man who underwent radical transformation in Russia. He started out a loyal servant of the state, joining the army and then the FSB, the post-communist secret security agency. He rose to become a lieutenant-colonel and was trusted with anti-terrorist operations.
But he grew disillusioned with corruption and lawlessness within the FSB. According to his own account, he was once ordered to organise the assassination of Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire businessman and oligarch who wielded considerable political influence.
He refused and later found himself at odds with the FSB and Putin, who headed the agency before rising to political power. He was arrested, imprisoned and then released.
By 2000 he had decided to flee the country and found refuge in Britain, where Berezovsky, who had also turned against Putin, had already fled.
Since Litvinenkos death the view put forward by pro-Kremlin interests is that he was a minor character, too insignificant for the FSB to bother killing. However, Russian dissidents thought differently. They feared that the FSB would never let a traitor get away. Indeed, some sources say that Litvinenkos image has often been used for target practice on FSB shooting ranges.
In August 2002 Mikhail Trepashkin, a Moscow lawyer and former FSB agent, telephoned Litvinenko to warn him that a special unit had been set up in the FSB to target him along with Berezovsky and their associates.
Like Litvinenko, Trepashkin had been investigating the bombing of apartment blocks in Russia that had been blamed on Chechen rebels. They and other dissidents believed that the FSB had organised the bombings to provide an excuse for war in Chechnya and to consolidate Putins power.
Last week letters written by Trepashkin to Litvinenko were passed to The Sunday Times. They reveal that Trepashkin claimed he had been contacted by another former member of the FSB who asked to meet him at a Moscow metro station.
[The agent] told me that he was again working for the FSB internal security division . . . and that a very serious group had been set up which will pressure all those associated with Berezovsky and Litvinenko, Trepashkin wrote. My clear understanding was that they were planning to take out your relatives . . .
Litvinenko already suspected he was being monitored by a spy called Viktor Kirov acting under diplomatic cover from the Russian embassy in London. Litvinenko is said to have complained to the police of being harassed by Kirov.
In September 2004 someone threw a petrol bomb at Litvinenkos house. It caused minor damage and Litvinenko tried to shrug it off. He knew there were far more sinister ways to kill him.
Last week one British security source advised The Sunday Times to consider the unpleasant fate of Roman Tsepov, a businessman and former bodyguard to Putin, whose death from mysterious radiation poisoning in 2004 has startling similarities to that of Litvinenko.
Litvinenko was certainly careful about who he met and where he went. And the police seem to have been concerned about him, or at least about his neighbourhood. He lived in a house in the same street as Akhmed Zakayev, a leading Chechen dissident and another vocal opponent of Putin.
A Sunday Times journalist also lives in the neighbourhood and learnt last week from a resident that a police surveillance team recently tried to rent a house in the street.
Did they want to watch Litvinenko and his associates? Or protect them? Or was it related to something else? Like so many strands in the case, it remains unclear.
Litvinenko had far from given up his campaign against Putin. He had been busy gathering fresh evidence for a new edition of his book, Blowing Up Russia, which claimed to expose how the FSB was behind terrorist attacks that were blamed on Chechens.
The original book, published in English in 2002, makes sweeping claims but provides little sourcing to support them. Litvinenko and his co-author, Yuri Felshtinsky, who lives in America, had prepared lengthy appendices of documents, interviews and transcripts to support their case in the new edition, which is due out next month.
Litvinenko still had business to do and battles to fight evidence, say his friends, that give the lie to persistent suggestions that he was a nutter who staged his own poisoning.
My theory is that it was definitely done by the FSB, but without Putins involvement, said Felshtinsky. The most interesting questions are why now and why in London?
POLICE want to find out whether Andrei Lugovoi, the former FSB agent who visited London just before the murder, knows the answers.
In many ways Lugovoi is as strange a character as Litvinenko. He left the Russian intelligence service to work for the Federal Protective Service, which guards state officials.
In 1997 he joined the security service of ORT, a television station owned by Berezovsky. There he met Litvinenko.
Since then, he has transmogrified into a rich businessman. He told The Sunday Times last week that his company, Pershin, controls interests in security, soft drinks and wine, and that it is worth about $100m. The implication was clear: why would a wealthy businessman get mixed up in an assassination?
However, friends of Litvinenko, on the other hand, suggest that Lugovoi would not have become so rich so quickly without the help of the FSB. Being a rich acquaintance of Litvinenko, they say, does not put him above suspicion.
Lugovoi has travelled frequently to London and met Litvinenko numerous times. In an interview on Friday in Moscow, he gave details of his movements. Dimitri [Kovtun, his business partner] and I flew to London from Moscow on October 16 on a Transaero flight. We stayed at the Parkes hotel in Knightsbridge. We met with Litvinenko in the afternoon in Bond Street and went to a meeting at Erinys, the security firm which recently developed an interest in Russia.
Litvinenko had introduced him to Erinys; its offices were last week found to be contaminated with polonium.
After the meeting we had lunch at the [Itsu] sushi bar in Piccadilly, a place where Litvinenko liked to go to. Then we parted. On October 17 we met again with Litvinenko in the afternoon. We went together for a meeting at another security firm. After the meeting we went back to the hotel where I had a meeting with an old acquaintance while Litvinenko waited for us downstairs. Then we went for dinner with him in Chinatown.
The following day, Lugovoi and Kovtun flew back to Moscow, also on Transaero. On October 25 Lugovoi again flew to London, this time on a British Airways plane, and checked in to the Sheraton Park Lane hotel.
In the evening [of the next day] I met with Litvinenko in the lobby of the hotel and we had a drink together at the bar, he said.
He met Litvinenko again in the hotel bar on the following evening. Then early in the morning the next day October 28] I flew back to Moscow on BA, the flight which leaves either at 8 or 9am.
On October 31 Lugovoi yet again flew to London, this time with his family in preparation for the Arsenal v CSKA Moscow match the next day. It is at this point that a number of important questions arise.
First, consider three elements of the investigation:
- The police appear to have established that Litvinenko had not been in contact with polonium until he was poisoned on November 1.
- Lugovoi has confirmed that traces of polonium have been found on him.
- Polonium radiation has been found at the Sheraton Park Lane hotel.
Neither Litvinenko nor Lugovoi is thought to have visited the Sheraton Park Lane hotel after October 28. So how did polonium contamination get there? Was Lugovoi already contaminated by then? Did he bring it with him from Moscow?
On the eighth floor of the Sheraton a policeman last week stood guard just outside the lift. To the left, the entire corridor was sealed off by a barrier. Behind it investigators were hard at work.
According to a note given to guests at the hotel, police had discovered traces of polonium-210 in five rooms.
Investigations centred on one guest bedroom where a Russian man had stayed.
Was this Lugovoi? Or if he was not the source of the polonium, was there another, as yet unidentified, party preparing the poison attack?
You see a lot of strange characters, odd people, Russians passing through here all the time, said one of the staff. Its completely anonymous, a good place for spying.
A further mystery arises because of conflicting evidence about Berezovskys Mayfair office, which is near the Sheraton. One source last week claimed that Lugovoi had visited the office during his trip to London between October 25 and 28. But another well-informed source said that Lugovoi had visited it on October 31 or November 1.
The timing is important, because whenever Lugovoi did visit the office he appears to have been strongly radioactive traces have been found there.
He and Berezovsky greeted each other with a hug and Lugovoi sat on a sofa while they drank white wine. The source said: When investigators later tested for radioactivity, the maximum activity was on the cream-coloured sofa where Lugovoi was sitting while he drank wine.
The police have been trying to determine the timeline of the polonium trail by examining the BA planes on which radiation traces have been found. If they could identify specific seats as sites of contamination, and match these to the passengers who used them on particular dates, they might be able to pinpoint when the polonium contamination first appeared.
Last week police were believed to be concentrating on a flight from Moscow on October 25.
Why would anyone bring polonium in then? And how could the contamination have leaked out? One possibility is that the attack on Litvinenko was planned for late October, but then postponed for a few days.
If so the assassin might have opened his container of polonium to prepare his attack prematurely and then left traces in the days before the poisoning took place. Experts say that, however carefully this preparation was done, small particles would have escaped and sprayed onto the persons hands and clothing.
Polonium is very difficult to hold in one place, said Priest. The moment you open a container of polonium some of it will come out and deposit on surfaces. Its due to something called recoil basically the alpha particles kick out atoms of polonium.
Yet even if Lugovoi can be shown to have been contaminated with polonium before November 1, it is still no proof that he is responsible for Litvinenkos poisoning.
Investigators have to discover how and where someone administered far more than a trace of polonium to Litvinenko. The assassin managed to make him eat, inhale or absorb into his blood enough polonium to create, as his father later said, a tiny nuclear bomb.
ON the morning of November 1 Litvinenko was given a lift into the centre of London by car. No trace of polonium has been found in that vehicle an indicator that Litvinenko had not yet been poisoned.
Given the high radiation he suffered, he would have fallen ill rapidly. It would have been within hours, a day at most, said a source at the HPA. It was the evening of November 1 that he first became sick.
His movements that day are the subject of dispute. According to Oleg Gordievsky, a friend of the victim and former KGB officer, Litvinenko met Lugovoi and Kovtun in the morning. Lugovoi and Kovtun, however, say this is not so: they met in the afternoon.
In the morning my family went off on a London tour, said Lugovoi. Dimitri and I went to a business meeting. I had spoken to Litvinenko and we had agreed to meet that day. He told me that he was first seeing an Italian acquaintance.
Again, timing matters in attempting to determine when the poisoning happened and who did it. Traces of polonium were found in the Pine bar and the gentlemens toilet of the Millennium hotel, where Lugovoi and Ovtun were staying and where they met Litvinenko. But when those traces were left remains uncertain.
About 3pm Litvinenko met Mario Scaramella, an Italian investigator who was in London for a meeting of the International Maritime Organisation. Scaramella was keen to see Litvinenko, he said, because he had received information about the FSB targeting people for elimination, including himself and Litvinenko.
Scaramella wanted to sit down and Litvinenko was hungry. So they went to the nearby Itsu sushi restaurant in Piccadilly. As Lugovoi knew, this was one of Litvinenkos favourite haunts. The Italian had a drink but nothing to eat; Litvinenko had a plate of sushi.
According to Litvinenkos friend and co-author Felshtinsky, who spoke to him soon afterwards: Alexander told me the meeting was very sudden. They werent meant to meet that particular day. Then Mario suddenly called and said he had to meet him immediately.
He thought his behaviour was odd. He told me that Mario was very nervous. He was drinking only water or something. Sasha [Litvinenko] ate something. Then [Scaramella] gave him those papers and they were in English and Alexander actually could not go through them very quickly because his English was not good enough.
Scaramella is another mysterious character in a cast of shadowy figures. He has been reported to be an academic but the university he was said to have been attached to has never heard of him.
Felshtinsky does not believe Scaramella was part of a plot, however. If after November 1 he went to Moscow, then he would be FSB, said Felshtinsky. But he went to Italy. I think he is innocent.
He is also contaminated: Scaramella ingested or inhaled a significant quantity of polonium, according to the HPA, though a far smaller amount than Litvinenko.
Yesterday Sergio Rastrelli, a lawyer representing Scaramella, said that tests showed he had been poisoned from the same source as Litvinenko. He was not contaminated by Litvinenko, said Rastrelli.
Initial health tests in Italy failed to find any polonium. He was flown to Britain to talk to the police and at first enjoyed the limelight. The British are treating me like the Prince of Wales, Scaramella told Paolo Guzzanti, a friend and Italian senator. Im in a castle [believed to be a Sussex hotel] and been given three escort cars.
But British tests revealed his contamination. Yesterday, a spokesman for University College hospital in London said he was well and preliminary tests have shown no evidence of radiation toxicity.
Guzzanti said later: I have just spoken to Scaramella. The health service told him: you received a lethal amount of polonium, but at the same time it was 10 to 20 times inferior to Litvinenko. So he says, I will pull through, I am strong. Did he receive a small, incidental dose of polonium at the same time as the main attack on Litvinenko? Was the restaurant the site of the poisoning? That is the working hypothesis of investigators, said his Italian lawyer yesterday.
The documents passed between Scaramella and Litvinenko at Itsu also appear to have been contaminated.
After the meal, the Russian hurried to Berezovskys nearby office where he appeared, according to a well-informed source, in an agitated state. He showed the documents to Berezovsky, who skimmed through them and passed them to a colleague. Litvinenko then photocopied them. Tests later found traces of radiation on the photocopying machine.
Berezovsky and his wife have also undergone radiation tests; late last week they were still awaiting the results.
Litvinenko had many business interests beyond his political concerns. Some sources say the financial help he received from Berezovsky had been cut, and he was increasingly acting as a conduit between Russian and overseas companies. Had he fallen foul of the Russian mafia?
It is understood that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yards Counter Terrorist Command SO15, who is leading the inquiry, has asked MI5 to hand over all its files on Litvinenko.
Police say they need the MI5 dossier because they are conducting a detailed examination of Litvinenkos activities during his six years in Britain. They are keen to establish his extensive network of contacts and identify those involved in his business dealings. They need to know whether he made enemies and detectives believe MI5s files on the poisoned spy may hold vital clues to the identity of his killers.
What is known is that in the late afternoon Litvinenko called Akhmed Zakayev, his Chechen dissident friend and neighbour, on his mobile phone.
He said he was in the city centre and since I was in town I agreed to give him a lift back home, said Zakayev. About 5.15pm Zakayev and his aide picked up Litvinenko, who read the documents aloud as they drove home.
Police have checked this vehicle and found contamination. Litvinenko, it seems, had been poisoned sometime between leaving home that morning and driving back.
A source close to the investigation said: This is a very complex John Le Carré-style situation, but we are pretty confident that we will get there.
There is also a sub-plot to this story. In the days after Litvinenkos plight became public, the health authorities were slow to react. At the time it was a mysterious case of poisoning; the polonium had not been identified.
Nevertheless Litvinenko was desperately ill. Yet nobody from the Health Protection Agency initially thought to alert other customers of Itsu. Itsu wasnt contacted until four days after it all hit the headlines, said a source.
Since the HPA alerted the public, including the 30,000 passengers who had subsequently flown on BAs Moscow-London planes, 2,655 people have contacted NHS Direct.
The HPA says it has followed up at least 157 people who should be investigated further. At least 24 have been referred as a precaution to specialist assessment for possible radiological exposure.
The problem for the authorities is that there are two contrasting levels of risk. The risk of being affected simply by being in a place where polonium has been found is very small; traces can be cleaned off by simple washing. However, if someone does ingest, inhale or otherwise absorb even a small amount of polonium into their blood, it so toxic that there is a danger to health. How big a danger? Nobody is quite sure.
Polonium dissolves in the blood, goes round in the blood and attacks cells, said a scientist at the HPA. But this is based on [computer] modelling. I dont think this particular experiment has been done as you can imagine.
Late last week a Home Office pathologist conducted a post-mortem examination on Litvinenko at the Royal London hospital. It is thought to have been carried out with full protective clothing to prevent further contamination.
The funeral arrangements are yet to be decided, but the traditional elements of Russian Orthodox ceremony have been ruled out. The Health Protection Agency will not allow mourners to pass the body of the former spy in an open casket.
London: Richard Woods, Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas, Gareth Walsh, David Leppard, David Cracknell, Nicholas Rufford, Olivia Cole, Sarah-Kate Templeton, Brendan Montague, Daniel Foggo and Roger Waite
Moscow: Mark Franchetti
Rome: John Follain and Philip Willan
Spies like Putin also like to send a message that can't be misinterpreted -- see also "Mafia".
Democrat = Blue
Republican = Red
Last week one British security source advised The Sunday Times to consider the unpleasant fate of Roman Tsepov, a businessman and former bodyguard to Putin, whose death from mysterious radiation poisoning in 2004 has startling similarities to that of Litvinenko.
Another radiation death...
As a true Russian tyrant, Vlad Putin
Feels fondness for rulin' and lootin';
He hides behind smiles,
Usin' KGB wiles
To assassinate foes without shootin'.
Polonium killed Litvinenko,
Delivered by serpentine foe;
In Moscow, still smiling,
Vlad Putin's beguiling
While re-staging Joe Stalin's show.
(a slightly modified re-post)
The idea is the publicity. There's two major effects this thing caused. One is the tremendous cost of the the attack, and the other is the cost of preventing another similar attack. Obviously the main attack was intended to have a maximum and long term financial effect. That is the message they intended to get across and that's why they chose radioslime.
LOL. Are you turning into Doug From Upland?! :O)
Nah, I'm a talentless hack compared to Doug. But every now and again the Muse pokes me in the ribs...
Roman Tsepov is 42. He hails from St. Petersburg. He worked as a fitter at the Izhorsky plant; then he served in the Internal Affairs Ministry Interior Troops. In the early 1990s, he established Baltik-Eskort, a private security company that provided protection services to, among others, Lyudmila Narusova, the wife of the then-mayor of St. Petersburg; and Kseniya Sobchak, his daughter. Mayor Sobchak's personal security was ensured by Viktor Zolotov, a Federal Protection Service (FSO) officer who was specially assigned to St. Petersburg from Moscow.
That is an old piece he is dead now..
While the murder of a businessman is hardly news in Russia, the death of the head of a private security company in St. Petersburg on September 24 has raised eyebrows. According to press reports, Roman Tsepov, general director of the Baltik-Eskort private security firm, had felt sick for two weeks [MY NOTE: about the same number of days as Litvinenko], but doctors were unable to find the cause of his illness. He was subsequently hospitalized in grave condition, and while doctors had planned on sending him to Germany for treatment, the condition had already infected his bone marrow and was untreatable (Delovoi Peterburg, September 24). The St. Petersburg prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into his death, which they are treating as a premeditated murder.
Russky kurier, citing the St. Petersburg-based Agenstvo Zhurnalistskikh Rassledovanii (Agency for Journalistic Investigations), reported that somewhere around September 10 or 11, Tsepov was poisoned with "a large dose of medicine used for treating leukemia patients (Russky kurier, September 27). The Stringer information agency had earlier cited rumors that Tsepov had been poisoned by a heavy metal: "The poison is among experimental chemicals, and access to it is severely restricted." Stringer said that Tsepov's case resembled that of Ivan Kivelidi, the influential businessman apparently poisoned to death along with his secretary in 1995 (Stringer-news.ru, September 25). Indeed, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov stated that Kivelidi's killers had used a top-secret modern chemical substance from Shikhany, a major Russian chemical weapons storage facility located in Saratov (see "Preventing the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism: The Case of Russia," Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 20, November 1997).
Whatever the substance that killed Tsepov, his death has drawn attention because, by all accounts, his influence and ties went well beyond his immediate business. "Officially, Tsepov headed one of the best protection agencies in Petersburg," NTV television reported. "Unofficially, he had influence and interests in many spheres of business and even in the power structures" (NTV.ru, September 25).
Kommersant was even more explicit about Tsepov's purported web of contacts. "His sphere of influence was very wide -- from pharmaceuticals and protection service to ports, tourism, shipping, insurance, and even the mass media," the newspaper wrote. "According to sources in the law-enforcement organs, Roman Tsepov kept in touch with many siloviki, from Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to the head of the presidential [security service] Vladimir Zolotov. It is said that he was in well with deputy presidential administration chief Igor Sechin and even Vladimir Putin himself. In UBOP [the anti-organized crime directorate] it is said that Mr. Tsepov actively used those contacts to resolve business issues and also carry out delicate errands for a number of very highly placed persons. In addition, it is said that Roman Tsepov used his connections to lobby for the appointments of Interior Ministry and FSB [Federal Security Service] officers. It was precisely because of this that one of his nicknames within certain circles was 'the Producer' " (Kommersant, September 25).
Moskovskiye novosti reported in July that Tsepov had presented himself to Yukos shareholders as essentially having been commissioned by Sechin, Zolotov, and even Putin to "come to terms" with the embattled oil company. "As soon as the 'Kremlin representative' asked for a big advance on his services, his powers were called into question. Tsepov's former relationship with Zolotov and Sechin and possibly also with Putin is a hard fact, but the level and quality of his present-day contacts is, basically, a matter of speculation" (Moskovskiye novosti, July 9).
Following word of Tsepov's death, the journalist Yulia Latynina said on her Ekho Moskvy radio program that Tsepov had reportedly told Yukos that he represented Sechin's interests and had full authority to resolve the conflict with the company as long as he and Gennady Timchenko were put on Yukos' board of directors. Britain's Telegraph has described Timchenko as "a Kremlin insider and oil trader" who shares a KGB past with Putin and is "very close" to the Russian president (see EDM, July 28). Latynina said, "But what's interesting is that when I was told this story -- and a lot of people told me it -- I had the impression that Mr. Tsepov . . . didn't understand that this [deal] is for others, and that, in essence, these people didn't need a representative in the person of Mr. Tsepov" (Ekho Moskvy, September 25).
The Stringer information agency quoted from a dossier on Putin that it first reported about in November 2000. The dossier was allegedly prepared by the FSB, then added to by the Interior Ministry's investigative department under Vladimir Rushailo, currently the CIS executive secretary. The dossier alleged that Tsepov, who in the early 1990s was an officer in the St. Petersburg police's anti-organized crime directorate and in charge of collecting license fees from casinos, acted as a go-between for a monthly payment from a leading casino owner to Putin, who was then deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. The dossier also claimed that in 1995, Tsepov gave Putin's wife a Chinese emerald he had won in a card game with a criminal boss, who had stolen it in South Korea. The emerald was reportedly included on an Interpol list of stolen gems. "Tsepov renders services to Putin on condition that the latter will 'protect' his activities," the dossier alleged (Stringer-news.ru, September 25; Stringer, November 2000).
Tsepov's Baltik-Eskort provided protection during the 1990s for the family of then-St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and for his deputy, Vladimir Putin. It also protected a variety of VIPs from other walks of life, including the crime boss Vladimir Malyshev (Russky kurier, September 27).
I sure wish my life was as interesting! :O)
I understand -- just posted for informational purposes.
Now lets research Ivan Kivelidi...
LOL. I was thinking the same thing. The trail goes back aways, I'd imagine.
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