A British judge, Sir Robert Owen, has ruled that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the murder of a former critic, FSB spy Alexander Litvinenko. Sir Robert Owen is a former British High Court judge, who led the nearly three-year-national inquiry.
Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian FSB secret service whose area of expertise was in fighting organized crime. In November of 1998 he and several other FSB officers leveled public accusations against their superiors, accusing them of having ordered the assassination of the wealthy and politically well-connected Boris Berezovosky.
In March of 1999 Litvinenko was arrested and charged with exceeding the authority of his position, for which he was acquitted in November of that year. Litvinenko was then re-arrested and the charges were again later dismissed the following year. At that point Litvinenko fled with his family to London where he worked as a “consultant” to British intelligence, and as a journalist and writer.
It was while in London that Litvinenko wrote two books critical of Vladimir Putin, making assertions of ties to organized crime and of ordering the October 2006 murder of Russian Journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. In November of 2006 Litvinenko suddenly became ill after his tea was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. The poisoning occurred during a meeting with Andrey Lugovoy, a fellow FSP operative. Lugovoy and ex-KGB agent Dmitri Kovtun were considered to be the most likely suspects at the time, but Russia refused British extradition absent the presentation of evidence.
Owen held a public briefing in London this week in which he announced the findings. He offered the conclusion that Litvinenko was targeted due to his threats to expose examples of what he described as Putin’s corruption and his connections to organized crime.
The assertions of the British judge against the Russian President didn’t go over very well, with Russia’s British Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, labeling the Owen investigation a “blatant provocation of the British authorities.” He added “It was absolutely unacceptable that the report concludes that the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr. Litvinenko.”
The British government called the news “extremely disturbing,” with the Foreign Office stating that Russia “had demonstrated a flagrant disregard for U.K. law, international law and standards of conduct.” The British government also froze the assets of the suspected killers, Lugovoy and Kovtun, who now reside in Russia.