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.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice