The Lugovoy case: Britain hasn’t provided enough evidence for extradition

Andrei Mayorov, deputy head of the Major Crimes Investigation Directorate at the Prosecutor General’s Office, discusses the Russian investigation team’s conclusions concerning Alexander Litvinenko’s death and Britain’s evidence against Andrei Lugovoy.

Everyone wants to know why the Prosecutor General’s Office questions the theory put forward by British detectives about Andrei Lugovoy’s involvement in the murder of former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko.

That was the opinion formed by Russian investigators after studying the supporting evidence in Britain’s request for the extradition of Lugovoy. According to the official statement from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the information presented by Britain is insufficient to charge Lugovoy with murder, or even to open a criminal case. Andrei Mayorov, deputy head of the Major Crimes Investigation Directorate at the Prosecutor General’s Office, tells us in this exclusive interview about the Russian investigation team’s conclusions concerning Litvinenko’s death.

Question: Why do Prosecutor General’s Office investigators regard the conclusions of their British counterparts as unsatisfactory?

Andrei Mayorov: The problem is that Britain hasn’t even given us the necessary minimum of documents on the so-called Litvinenko case. We still haven’t received the most important documents – search records, expert conclusions, and other equally important information. The official information doesn’t even tell us the exact cause of death.

Unfortunately, most of our information about polonium-210 poisoning has come from so-called open sources. We don’t have the test results.

The extradition request only contains general conclusions, not supported by any evidence. What’s more, the impression one gets from reading it is that Scotland Yard was striving to emphasize the political aspects rather than the legal aspects. A substantial part of this document focuses on the story of Litvinenko’s so-called battle against the FSB’s allegedly unlawful actions. For example, it states that persecution of Litvinenko in Russia began after he publicly revealed an FSB conspiracy to murder Boris Berezovsky, and that Litvinenko faced continual groundless harassment until he decided to leave Russia.

Straight after this introduction, the extradition request goes on to say that Litvinenko died on November 23, 2006 of poisoning after ingesting radioactive polonium-210. In other words, his death is directly linked to his so-called “battle” with the FSB. In effect, the FSB is accused of killing its “opponent” in an extremely cruel way that also posed a risk to public safety. The grounds for these far-reaching conclusions are not clear and not explained at all.

But that’s only half the problem. Aside from passages like the above, the extradition request also contains contradictory information which needs to be verified and supported by documentary evidence, at the very least.

Question: What do you mean?

Andrei Mayorov: The extradition request suggests that starting from October 16, 2006, Lugovoy – a friend and business partner of Litvinenko and Berezovsky – made several visits to London and gradually poisoned Litvinenko. The final phase involved drinking tea on November 1. According to the British investigators, Litvinenko ingested the polonium on that day, in a cup of tea given to him by Lugovoy. But Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun had ordered the tea for themselves, and Litvinenko agreed to drink it of his own accord. No one forced him to do so. And Litvinenko wasn’t the only polonium-210 casualty – Kovtun and Lugovoy were exposed to it as well. For some reason, the documents provided by Britain fail to account for this circumstance.

What’s more, everyone knows the movements of Lugovoy and Kovtun during their visits to London between October 16 and November 1, 2006. Britain’s extradition request says that Lugovoy left a trail of polonium almost everywhere he went, alone or in Litvinenko’s company. Traces of radioactive contamination were found in rooms at the Best Western Hotel where Lugovoy and Kovtun stayed overnight, and at the offices of Erinys – and at the Itsu sushi bar, which Lugovoy and Kovtun visited only once, in Litvinenko’s company. There were also traces at the Park Hotel and on the plane that took Lugovoy and Kovtun back to Moscow.

For some reason, however, no mention is made of the fact that there weren’t any polonium traces at Shadrin’s office, which Lugovoy and Kovtun visited repeatedly. And no radiation was found at several restaurants where they met with Litvinenko. This raises an entirely natural question: why does the polonium trail, which ought to be uninterrupted, keep breaking? Neither do we know when the abovementioned locations were contaminated.

No traces of polonium were found on the plane that took Lugovoy and Kovtun to London on October 16. None were found at the airport, on a train, or at a train station. And there are a great many inconsistencies of this kind.

Question: But the British theory about Lugovoy’s guilt must have been based on more than the traces he left. Does the extradition request state that he had direct contact with the radioactive material?

Andrei Mayorov: Yes. According to the extradition request, British investigators have evidence that Lugovoy had some direct contact with polonium-210. For example, it says that polonium-210 traces were found in a garbage bin in the hotel room where Lugovoy stayed during his visit to London in November. The trace was so strong that detectives concluded that a polonium container must have been placed in the bin for some time.

We have analyzed this information. As everyone knows, garbage bins in hotel rooms have their plastic bin-liners changed daily. So if a container had been thrown in the bin, there would have been radiation traces on the bin-liner. And when the hotel room was cleaned the next day, the bin-liner and all the trash would have been removed. Moreover, it’s highly likely that the person who cleaned the room would have been exposed to a strong dose of radiation. For some reason, however, Britain hasn’t reported any radiation victims among the hotel staff.

What’s more, the hotel room where Lugovoy stayed wouldn’t have been searched by specialists until after Litvinenko’s death, since it took that long to establish that he was poisoned with polonium-210. In other words, the contaminated garbage bin would have remained in the hotel room for almost a month, with other hotel guests staying in the room. Yet none of them appear to have been affected by radiation. Consequently, we have grave doubts about reports of such strong contamination being found in the garbage bin after all that time.

We requested the British authorities to allow Russian investigators to inspect the hotel room, in the presence of British specialists – but our request has been refused.

Of course, we were very surprised by Scotland Yard’s reply that it would not be expedient to carry out investigation actions on British territory, as we had requested our counterparts. These actions were required to verify the information we obtained in the course of our investigation, and to follow up all the theories for which we have quite a lot of arguments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that when our British counterparts visited Moscow, we sieved all their questions and carried out all the investigation actions they requested, in a timely manner and with no red tape.

Finally: all media, especially the British media, would be well advised to be more attentive and responsible in their coverage of events associated with the case in question.