Litvinenko 'killed over dossier' on senior Putin ally

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Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by radioactive poisoning because of a dossier he had compiled on a high-ranking Russian figure close to President Vladimir Putin, another former agent claimed yesterday.

Yuri Shvets, an ex-spy based in the United States, said Mr Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital on 23 November from poisoning by Polonium-210, had been employed by a British company to provide information on five potential Russian clients before they committed to investment. He had helped the former KGB man with information on one of the five.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Shvets said the report had led to the British company pulling out of a deal, losing the Russian figure potential earnings of "dozens of millions of dollars". Neither the Russian nor the British company was named, but asked whether the report had lead to Mr Litvinenko's death, he replied: "I can't be 100 per cent sure, but I am pretty sure."

Scotland Yard, which sent a team of nine detectives to Russia to investigate the murder, has a copy of the dossier. The BBC said it had obtained extracts, which contained damaging personal details about a "very highly placed member of Putin's administration".

More than three weeks after Mr Litvinenko died agonisingly, and a month and a half after he first complained of being poisoned, the trail constantly leads back to Russia, where he served in the KGB and its successor organisation, the FSB. He came to Britain in 2000 after alleging that he had been ordered to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, a hugely rich oligarch who fell out with the Kremlin and also sought refuge in Britain.

According to associates, Mr Litvinenko blamed Mr Putin for his poisoning before he died. The Kremlin has denied involvement, and sent its chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to Britain last week to dampen speculation in the British media. Although the British Government had not fallen for "media hysteria", he told The Independent on Sunday, Russia's reputation was in jeopardy because of what he termed "Cold War thinking".

The Kremlin has sought to portray Mr Litvinenko as a low-level operative who did not have any information that would have made it worthwhile killing him. On Friday the Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said he had never been a spy, but an ex-prison guard who had been sacked by the FSB amid questions over his integrity and honesty.

"He had no training, not much intellect and a tendency for provocation," Mr Ivanov said. "His character was not right". He was fired during Mr Putin's brief spell as head of the FSB.

According to the Kremlin, only those who wanted to discredit Russia would have reason to murder Mr Litvinenko. Privately, however, Russian officials concede that it is impossible to rule out involvement by well-connected Russians in the affair, though they insist that none of them hold official positions in the Kremlin or the FSB.

Investigators following the trail of radiation from the Polonium-210 that killed Mr Litvinenko are focusing on a meeting he held with Moscow-based associates at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square on 1 November, the day he fell ill. German police have discovered that Dmitry Kovtun, one of the men at the meeting, left radiation traces in Hamburg before he came on to London.

But there are indications that Polonium-210 may have been brought to Britain as early as mid-October, when the ex-FSB man held the first of a series of meetings with Andrei Lugovoy, a former colleague whom he had known for many years. Mr Lugovoy too has left traces of radiation in several places, including the British Embassy in Moscow.

According to Mr Shvets, Mr Litvinenko showed a copy of the dossier to Mr Lugovoy in late September or early October, adding: "I believe that triggered the entire assassination." He claimed Mr Lugovoy was still employed by the FSB, and had leaked the dossier to the Russian figure.

Mr Lugovoy has repeatedly denied having anything to do with Mr Litvinenko's death. On Friday he told AP that when he spoke to the Scotland Yard detectives in Moscow it was as a witness, rather than as a suspect. "Police are not accusing me of anything," he said. "As for all that is being said - it's nothing but hysteria in the media."