LONDON // Russian president Vladimir Putin probably approved a plan by the FSB security service to murder former agent Alexander Litvinenko, a British judge claimed yesterday.
In a lengthy report, Judge Robert Owen said that he is certain Litvinenko was given tea laced with a lethal dose of polonium-210 at a London hotel in November 2006.
He said there is a “strong probability” that the FSB directed the killing, and the operation was “probably approved” by Mr Putin.
Litvinenko, a former FSB agent, fled to Britain in 2000 and became a vocal critic of Russia’s security service and of Mr Putin, whom he accused of links to organised crime.
Mr Owen said Litvinenko “was regarded as having betrayed the FSB” with his actions, and that “there were powerful motives for organisations and individuals within the Russian state to take action against Mr. Litvinenko, including killing him.”
Moscow has denied involvement in Litvinenko’s death, and Russia refused to identify the two main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.
Litvinenko died after he was poisoned with polonium-210, an isotope that is deadly even if ingested in tiny quantities.
He had fled from Russian to Britain in 2000 after breaking with Mr Putin and his inner circle.
In his 326-page report, Mr Owen said that based on the evidence he had seen, the operation to kill Litvinenko was “probably” approved by then-FSB head Nikolai Petrushov and by Mr Putin.
Mr Owen said Litvinenko “had repeatedly targeted president Putin” with “highly personal” public criticism.
The British government appointed Mr Owen to head a public inquiry, which soured relations between London and Moscow. He heard from dozens of witnesses during months of public hearings last year, and also examined secret British intelligence evidence.
* Associated Press