An interview with Andrei Lugovoi

Andrei Lugovoi: “British intelligence must have known whether Litvinenko’s death was accidental, a result of handling polonium incautiously. At the very least, they must have known he was handling polonium. But then they said: this is murder. What kind of motive could I possibly have?”

This interview with Andrei Lugovoi was recorded the day after his press conference. He speaks in more detail about points he mentioned in that statement.

Question: Why are you speaking out at this particular moment? Nine days after the charges, six months after Alexander Litvinenko’s death…

Andrei Lugovoi: We are speaking out now because publicity is one of our remaining means of defense. It’s a means of keeping us safe. We weren’t actually keeping silent over the past few days – we were only making preparations for this, discussing it with barristers and solicitors, and coordinating our position with the law enforcement agencies. Over the past six months we have actively cooperated with the Prosecutor General’s Office. That’s the first point. Second: during this time we have tried hard to make contact with the British law enforcement agencies. The British media reported that we were being kept hidden… But I remember very well that my name was first mentioned on November 20-21 – and within a day I contacted the British Embassy and said: here I am, Andrei Lugovoi, here are my contact details – I’ll be glad to talk to you. I asked them to name a day for receiving me.

I should note that the meeting with British police was very frustrating for us. Their questions were so generalized – as if they just wanted to chat with us, then draw whatever conclusions they saw fit.

Question: You have mentioned the role played by British intelligence. What exactly do you see that role as involving?

Andrei Lugovoi: Polonium was used – a substance that leaves an indelible trail. And that trail was picked up everywhere we had been. And we can only assume that this was done deliberately, in order to link this crime to us and to Russia. Besides, Litvinenko was recruited by them – I know that for a fact. And he had a handler, a person who knows about all his meetings and contacts. In other words, British intelligence must have known whether Litvinenko’s death was accidental, a result of handling polonium incautiously. At the very least, they must have known he was handling polonium. But then they said: this is murder. What I want to know is – what kind of motive could I possibly have?

Question: You spoke of Litvinenko’s work in Spain. Could you give any more details about that work? So he exposed some of the Russian mafia and bragged about making good money by doing so. Who gave him that money – the Spanish government?

Andrei Lugovoi: He just said he was working on some sort of plan relating to crimes committed by people from Russia – criminals operating in Spain. What’s more, as I understood it, he wasn’t doing so with the aim of stopping their criminal activities, but with the aim of making money for himself. I was present on several occasions when he had telephone conversations with people in Spain. He spoke to them in Russian. He might have been working with some sort of crime bosses – he might have had some evidence against them.

Well, there can be all kinds of theories. Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev has said there are reports that Litvinenko visited Chechnya to destroy evidence of Boris Berezovsky’s links to Shamil Basayev. That was between 2001 and 2006. He went to Chechnya via Georgia, through the Pankisi Gorge. Whom did he meet with there, who were his contacts? Based on fragments of telephone conversations, I understood that he had also made repeated visits to Istanbul, where he met with representatives of the Chechen separatist guerrillas. Couldn’t they have had a motive for killing him?

Question: After the Prosecutor General’s Office opened its investigation, there were reports of them looking into a theory that certain YUKOS personnel were involved – including Leonid Nevzlin. What is your view of Nevzlin’s role in this story, given that Litvinenko visited him?

Andrei Lugovoi: I think that work on this theory is due precisely to the fact that he made repeated visits to Nevzlin in Israel, meeting with him and making some sort of decisions. As Litvinenko himself told me, those matters concerned Spain. Litvinenko attempted to sell Nevzlin a videotape of some kind. I don’t know what was on it.

Question: A transcript of Boris Berezovsky’s questioning session has been posted online. He mentions that Litvinenko had found a new job six months before his death, something that had nothing to do with Berezovsky. Do you know what that job was?

Andrei Lugovoi: He didn’t have a steady job at all. I think he was probably referring to me. Thanks to me, he could start making some money.

Question: Could you give some details about that?

Andrei Lugovoi: Well, for example, in the process of cooperating with the Risk Management company. As I said, these are former intelligence agents who tried to recruit me. But aside from that, there were ordinary business contacts as well. They proposed that we should keep doing what we had been doing. There are some people in Britain who want to invest in Russia, but they’re scared, and they want to be sure that their investments won’t be misappropriated. And we offered them various analytical materials concerning various sectors of the economy. We were paid immediately for these materials, and Litvinenko received 20% of the sum in cash. He told me this himself.

Actually, getting back to Litvinenko, he spilled a lot of information over five years. And throughout those five years, he was comfortably off – he wasn’t short of money. But when that channel was cut off, he realized that he was left with nothing. He had a family, a growing son, he needed money – but he was entirely dependent on Berezovsky. And towards the end, he was getting desperate. On the one hand, he was really determined to go into business. On the other hand, he had some serious commitments to his handlers in British intelligence.

Question: Speaking of Berezovsky – please tell us about your contacts with he person usually known as “Badri.” I mean Arkady Patarkatsishvili.

Andrei Lugovoi: I consider him a friend and partner – although we had a superior-subordinate relationship until 2001. He was the chief executive at the ORT television network, and I headed its security service. After 2001 we only had business contacts, and I visited Tbilisi quite often. I still have a warm, friendly relationship with him. He has nothing whatsoever to do with this case. A year ago, he and Berezovsky made the decision to dissolve their business partnership. And as Badri himself has told me, the deal was supposed to happen within a year. That deadline expired in February or March. And when Berezovsky accused me of killing Litvinenko, I realized that the deal was complete.

Question: So you think Berezovsky was trying to frame you. Or was he trying to frame Badri, via yourself?

Andrei Lugovoi: A number of circumstances do suggest an attempt to frame us. While Litvinenko was still conscious, my name wasn’t mentioned at all.

I spoke to him by phone on November 13 – that’s 13 days after the so-called poisoning. He was already in a serious condition. The photographs that the whole world saw were taken around that time. He didn’t make any complaints or accusations against me. But as soon as he went into a coma, on November 21-22, my name was mentioned. What was there to stop him accusing me on November 7 or November 10? Litvinenko himself said he had been poisoned by Scaramella.

Question: You claim that Goldfarb and Litvinenko were selling political asylum in Britain. Do you have any information about anyone buying it?

Andrei Lugovoi: I have no direct information. But Litvinenko talked about it – not a passing mention, he raised this topic repeatedly. He said we simply had no idea how easily it could be done. Given that Litvinenko spoke of this in spring and again in autumn, I think that some deals of this kind did indeed take place.

Question: But British intelligence must have known of these activities. What would they think of political asylum being sold?

Andrei Lugovoi: They might not have known. It could have been a private initiative by Litvinenko and Goldfarb. Though Litvinenko was cautious about Goldfarb and Feltishinsky – he mentioned repeatedly that those two has cheated him of $100,000 in royalties for the “Blowing Up Russia” book.

Question: Let’s sum this up. The present situation appears to be an impasse. If you go to London, you’ll be convicted and jailed. If you don’t go, you’ll be labelled as a murderer – and the whole world will continue to see you as a murderer, indefinitely. Is there any solution?

Andrei Lugovoi: If the British really do hand over all the evidence, we would like to see it and formulate our position. We believe that they haven’t uncovered the full circumstances of the case. Once we see the evidence, we can either refute their conclusions or insist that there should be a trial and prove our innocence in court.