Strange truth of a life caught up with MI6’s ‘Martin’ and the KGB

Inquiry told Alexander Litvinenko was spying for Britain and Spain –  and Russia killed him

Secret details of Alexander Litvinenko’s life as a British intelligence agent were revealed yesterday at a preparatory hearing into the poisoned former KGB officer’s death.

The inquiry was told that the 43-year-old not only worked for MI6, but was helping the Spanish intelligence services investigating organised crime in Russia.

Mr Litvinenko died in hospital three weeks after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 after meeting fellow former KGB contacts for tea at a Mayfair hotel in 2006. The night before, the High Court judge Sir Robert Owen was told, he met with his MI6 handler “Martin”.

The inquest next May is likely to increase tensions between the UK and Russia, with the British government providing evidence that the foreign state was involved in the murder of its former agent.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina, claimed the British had failed to protect the former KGB officer: “At the time of his death Mr Litvinenko had been for a number of years a registered and paid agent in the employ of MI6.

“That relationship between Mr Litvinenko and his employers MI6 is sufficient to trigger an enhanced duty by the British government to ensure his safety when tasking him on dangerous operations.”

Paid through a bank account or in cash, Mr Litvinenko had a dedicated telephone to MI6, which tasked him with helping Jose Grinda Gonzalez, the Spanish prosecutor for corruption and organised crime.

A US embassy cable described how Mr Gonzalez had met the Americans and told them he was working on a thesis by Mr Litvinenko that “the Russian intelligence and security services – Grinda cited the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and military intelligence (GRU) – control organised crime in Russia. Grinda stated that he believes the thesis is accurate”.

As an agent to the Spanish intelligence services through a handler called “Uri”, Mr Litvinenko had been planning a trip to Madrid with Mr Lugovoi – a member of the FSB, and the man suspected of the murder – until he became ill from poisoning.

Mr Emmerson continued: “He made a phone call to Mr Lugovoi in hospital to discuss their planned trip together to Spain to provide intelligence to the Spanish prosecutor investigating Russian mafia links with the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. He explained he was ill and could no longer go on their planned trip.”

Both Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun – who also met him for tea at the Mayfair hotel – have denied any involvement in the killing but have refused to surrender to the British authorities.

Neil Garnham QC, representing the Government, responded that he could not comment on assertions that Mr Litvinenko was in the pay of MI6: “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Hugh Davies, the barrister to the inquest, revealed that almost a year after it was invited to participate in the inquest, the Russian government had applied to be represented. On Wednesday, Mr Davies explained a letter was received requesting that the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation – sometimes compared with the American FBI – be granted “interested-person status” at the inquest in May.

He added that, having examined documents supplied by the British government, the inquiry team had failed to find evidence that supported a wide variety of theories including claims Mr Litvinenko had been murdered by the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, the Spanish mafia, Italian academic Mario Scaramella or Chechen organisations.

However, he added: “Taken in isolation, our assessment is that the government material does establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”

Sir Robert, sitting as Assistant Deputy Coroner, is expected to rule early next year on what will be admissible at the inquest as well as whether there is a case under the European Convention of Human Rights that the British state was culpable in the death “either in itself carrying out, or by its agents, the poisoning or by failing to take reasonable steps to protect Mr Litvinenko from a real risk to his life”.

A tangled web: Litvinenko’s network

*Alexander Litvinenko served in the KGB and its successor the Federal Security Service (FSB) but left in 2000, having been arrested for exceeding the authority of his position, charges which were dismissed.

*In 1998, Mr Litvinenko and other FSB officers accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky. He later worked on the oligarch’s security team and the men became friends.

*Having fled to Britain seeking asylum, he began working as an agent of MI6.

*Through the British he became a paid agent of the Spanish intelligence services, and provided information to Jose Grinda Gonzalez, the Spanish prosecutor for corruption and organised crime.

*Shortly before his death, he had been planning a trip to Spain with Andrei Lugovoi, pictured left, to provide intelligence to the Spanish prosecutor.

*He met with the fellow former KGB agent for tea on the day he fell ill.

*Dmitry Kovtun was also at the meeting on 1 November 2006. German detectives investigated Mr Kovtun for bringing traces of plutonium into Germany but dropped the case against him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy