An update on the Litvinenko poisoning and associated theories

According to The Guardian, Litvinenko came into contact with a quantity of polonium-210 that would have been worth almost 30 million euros. This information completely rules out the theory that Litvinenko was poisoned; it’s hard to imagine anyone undertaking such an expensive form of murder.

The first reports from the post-mortem done on Alexander Litvinenko came as a sensation. According to The Guardian, Litvinenko came into contact with a quantity of polonium-210 that would have been worth almost 30 million euros. This information completely rules out the theory that Litvinenko was poisoned; it’s hard to imagine anyone undertaking such an expensive form of murder. So how did Litvinenko die? Was this an unsuccessful attempt to sell a radioactive isotope? Or was Litvinenko really involved in building a nuclear device? At any rate, the West now understands that neither the Russian authorities nor the Russian special services were involved in this mysterious death.

Post-mortem findings

New information about Litvinenko’s mysterious death kept coming in throughout the weekend. Scotland Yard experts were finding polonium-210 traces all over the place. Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, was exposed to a minor amount of radiation; traces of radiation were found in the car of Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev. Like a walking reactor, Litvinenko left radioactive footprints everywhere he went. The reasons for this became clear after the post-mortem on his body.

The autopsy was done on the evening of Friday, December 1, in a special wing of the Royal London Hospital. There were three pathologists: one representing the Home Office, one representing Litvinenko’s family, and one an independent expert. Samples of the deceased’s internal tissues and organs have been given to toxicologists for further tests.

The official post-mortem report has not been made public as yet, but sources close to the investigation told The Guardian that Litvinenko had come into contact with enough polonium-210 to poison over a hundred people. Its market value was 29.7 million euros. Some journalists at other publications joked grimly that Litvinenko might make the Guinness Book of Records as the victim of the costliest poisoning in history.

If The Guardian’s information is correct, the theory that Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned doesn’t hold up. No one would spend that much money to poison a relatively unknown defector. So what actually happened?


Clearly, as we has speculated earlier, Litvinenko was either involved in selling radioactive materials or somebody was trying to build a portable nuclear device. It’s hard to find any other explanation for the presence of that much polonium in proximity to Litvinenko.

To all appearances, one of the central figures in the investigation will be Mario Scaramella, the Italian who had lunch with Litvinenko at the Itsu restaurant on November 1. After that lunch, Scaramella spent a few days hiding out in Italy – but when he learned of Litvinenko’s death, he urgently returned to Britain, had himself admitted to hospital for tests, and agreed to cooperate with police. Senator Paolo Guzzanti, Scaramella’s friend and colleague, said on December 2 that a lethal dose of polonium had been found in Scaramella’s body.

“I have spoken to Scaramella by phone,” Guzzanti told journalists. “A lethal level of polonium has been found in his body. Mario is feeling fine at present, but he’s doomed.”

So it appears that both Litvinenko and Scaramella were poisoned when they had lunch together. The isotope was closer to Litvinenko, and he received a substantially higher dose. Was Litvinenko holding a container of polonium in his hands? Was he showing it to Scaramella? Did Scaramella refrain from handling it, only to get a dose of radiation when he shook hands with Litvinenko? It’s interesting to note that one of the waitresses at Itsu has reported an unexplained rash on her legs. Another waitress has a rash on her face.

A few days ago, Scaramella let slip that during their lunch at Itsu, Litvinenko told him about his involvement in smuggling radioactive materials. Why would two gentlemen discuss such things over lunch? But everything falls into place if we assume that they were actually negotiating an illicit deal of this kind.

Andrei Lugovoi’s secret journey

Investigators have more and more questions for Andrei Lugovoi, former head of the ORT television network’s security department and a close associate of Boris Berezovsky. Until now, Lugovoi claimed that he’d met with Litvinenko on November 1 at the Millennium Hotel bar. He said he had come to London for the weekend and returned to Moscow on November 3. But now it turns out that Lugovoi was also in London on October 25-27, and polonium traces have been found in the plane that took him there. On that occasion, he stayed at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, and also met with Litvinenko. Litvinenko gave Lugovi a SIM card for his phone and a payment card. Traces of polonium have been found at the hotel.

We attempted to contact Lugovoi, but his assistants kept saying that he is very busy. Lugovoi hasn’t yet explained the nature of his business relationship with Litvinenko. Moreover, it’s unclear how polonium traces ended up in the plane that took him to London on October 25.

Was Scaramella lured to London?

Some other theories are being widely discussed as well. The Western press, probably by force of habit, continues to link Litvinenko’s death to the Russian special services. For example, according to The Observer, Litvinenko might have been trying to blackmail the Russian authorities and big business with certain documents to which he had unrestricted access. The Observer quotes Julia Svetlichnaja, a Russian temporarily residing in Britain, who told investigators that Litvinenko had planned to get tens of thousands of pounds in exchange for not revealing the information in his possession. This was confirmed by former KGB officer Yuri Shvets, now living in the United States (like Litvinenko, he used to work for Boris Berezovsky). However, the informants declined to reveal the contents of the documents.

The Daily Telegraph managed to obtain a copy of the letter which was Scaramella’s alleged reason for coming to see Litvinenko in London. It mentions Honor and Dignity, an organization of intelligence veterans headed by Colonel Valentin Velichko. In the letter, Litvinenko’s former co-worker Yevgeny Limarev warns Scaramella that members of Honor and Dignity are planning to kill him and Senator Guzzanti for their anti-Russian activities. Moreover, Limarev names some special service officers, claiming that they may have been involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

Can these theories be taken seriously? It’s hard to imagine that Litvinenko actually possessed any documents containing major revelations. If he had, then Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin would certainly have been first in line to buy them; yet they are still unable to produce anything but assertions that they have access to lots of compromising materials. However, it’s worth noting what Julia Svetlichnaja told investigators: Litvinenko was desperate for money and prepared to do anything at all to get it.

As for the letter, it’s more likely to be proof that this whole story is an act of provocation. Limarev couldn’t have known any more than Scaramella himself about special service plans or Politkovskaya’s murder. Limarev is a businessman who has lived in France since 2000 and is a close ally of Berezovsky. The theory that this letter was used to lure Scaramella to London seems far more convincing. Why was this done? That’s something for Scotland Yard to figure out.

The millions could have come from Berezovsky

Boris Berezovsky, linked to all the characters in this story, one way or another, still remains silent. It’s entirely probable that the threads picked up by the investigation will lead to him. If the information about the value of the polonium in Litvinenko’s body is accurate, that means somebody has lost 29.7 million euros. Of all the characters in this story, only Berezovsky had that kind of money to spare. So we can’t rule out the theory that if Litvinenko really was attempting to sell polonium, he may have done so with Berezovsky’s knowledge and on Berezovsky’s orders. Sooner or later, Scotland Yard detectives will arrive at the truth. And Berezovsky might be keeping silent because he realizes that the time has come when anything he says may be used against him.