Spanish link may shed light on motive for a very unusual, unexplained killing

 

In the world of espionage, where information is power, it is not unusual to find men like Alexander Litvinenko, a former agent, trading on what he could pick up from his contacts. Nor is it remarkable that his services were shared by his paymasters, MI6, with authorities in another friendly country, Spain.

What was so unusual is that Mr Litvinenko ended up dead, and his death took place in such a shocking way. Intelligence agencies do not go around killing each other’s spies, especially in London, so long after the Cold War. Reports of Kremlin involvement have been around and, along with it, speculation as to the motive. One theory is Mr Litvinenko was executed as a traitor – a warning to others. This appeared to have been given some credence by the comments of Sergei Abeltsev, a Duma member with security connections, saying: “The deserved punishment reached the traitor. I am confident that this terrible death will be a serious warning to traitors of all colours, wherever they are located. In Russia, they do not pardon treachery.”

But over the years there have not been attempts to take retribution on defectors who had given up far more important secrets. If Mr Litvinenko was made an example of, why use means which the killers appeared to think would be undetectable?

There was a public disclosure yesterday which may point towards what actually happened. Mr Litvinenko had been supplying information to a Spanish prosecutor, Jose Grinda Gonzalez, regarding the activities of the Russian mafia. He was supposed to be travelling to Madrid with Andrei Lugovoi, a member of Russian intelligence service the FSB, and wanted in Britain for the murder.

The Russian mafia has no compunctions about killing its enemies to protect its profits; it also has links to the state security. This kind of working relationship is not uncommon, remember the CIA’s use of the American mafia in its attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro in Cuba.

In Russia now, spies and gangsters are enmeshed in what they do. By passing on damaging secrets to Spain, Mr Litvinenko would have become a target for crime bosses who would have been able to use government agents to silence him.

So was the British state also culpable in Mr Litvinenko’s death? Ben Emmerson QC, counsel for his widow, Marina, maintains that MI6 failed to protect its agent. If there was coercion involved – and Mr Emmerson may be able to prove it when the inquest takes place – there is certainly a case to answer. If not, then we have to accept Mr Litvinenko chose to get involved in such a mission knowing  the vicious and ruthless nature of the adversaries he faced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions