Russian defector Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin's administration and a close associate of exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, died in a London hospital November 23. His body was found to contain a lethal dose of polonium 210, a radioactive isotope.
On Monday, a group of nine detectives from Scotland Yard arrived in Moscow to interview several people who met with Litvinenko around the time of his alleged poisoning in early November. It is the first visit by U.K. policemen to Moscow since Scotland Yard signed a cooperation memorandum with Russia's Office of the Prosecutor General, and the first chance to join forces against crime.
The three witnesses are businessman and former KGB and FSB colleague Andrei Lugovoi, and businessmen Dmitry Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolov, who spent several hours with Litvinenko in London's Millennium Hotel on November 1.
Lugovoi seems like the most interesting witness.
In the last month before Litvinenko's death, his former KGB and FSB colleague had met with the deceased four times in London. Lugovoi seems to be suffering from memory problems, for he told Kommersant, a Russian business daily, that he was "absolutely clean" of radiation yet admitted to The Sunday Times that traces of polonium were found on him.
At the same time, memory is playing tricks with many people around the world.
Yuri Shvets, a former senior KGB officer, who now has political asylum in the United States, claims to have solved the mystery of Litvinenko's death.
"I happen to believe I know who is behind the death of my friend Sasha (Litvinenko) and the reason for his murder," Yuri Shvets said in an exclusive interview with the AP by telephone from the United States.
Mario Scaramella, an Italian contact of the dead ex-spy, and Russian girl Svetlana, who is living in London, also claim to have relevant information. Svetlana claims Litvinenko told her of plans to earn tens of thousands of pounds by blackmailing top brass in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). I wonder why he revealed his plans to Svetlana, for he was a trained spy and knew that sharing information led to sharing money.
The British police are fighting off the landslide effect, as more and more people who want their 15 minutes of fame are dancing on Litvinenko's open grave. They may get entangled in a net of versions the media in Moscow is producing like an out-of-control silkworm.
However, at least four of them are worthy of consideration.
Version One: Litvinenko somehow acquired smuggled polonium-210 and wanted to earn from the transaction. On November 1, he left traces of radiation everywhere he was, including the office of exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, a key wheeler and dealer of the Yeltsin era. None of the men he met that day has shown signs of illness.
Scaramella said his friend Litvinenko made a bit on the side by smuggling toxic isotopes. The future victim of polonium poisoning lived on Berezovsky's hand-me-downs and badly needed more money.
According to information leaked from the post-mortem examination, Litvinenko died from a dose that could cost 30 million euros. This seems a bit too rich for a murder.
Version Two: Litvinenko wanted to shake off Berezovsky and therefore posed a threat to the exiled oligarch, according to the popular daily Izvestia.
Shadows have been recently gathering over Berezovsky. The memorandum of cooperation, which Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev has signed with Scotland Yard, did not promise a bright future to the businessman. Besides, Litvinenko, who knew too much, probably lost his nerve and said something about his spiritual tossing and turning. Unfortunately, a dead acquaintance is better than a living friend who talks too much.
Version Three: Litvinenko was connected with an underground London laboratory where a dirty nuclear bomb was being made for Chechen terrorists. Russian nuclear experts put forth this version in a Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov show on the NTV channel.
Two facts corroborate this version:
One of Litvinenko's close friends was Akhmed Zakayev, the former commander of Chechen fighters, whom Russian prosecutors want to see in Moscow in connection with cases of murders and torture in Chechnya.
About two years ago, Berezovsky told the world that Chechen separatists had acquired a portable nuclear bomb and lacked only one minor detail. That "minor detail" could be polonium-210, which can be used to detonate a dirty nuclear bomb, experts say.
Maybe Litvinenko was carrying the polonium to the lab, and paid with his life for the deadly substance?
Version Four: Litvinenko was "|punished" by one of his former FSB colleagues whom the defector turned over to the British secret service. There are many books and movies about such "avengers" from the ranks of former secret officers and other "offended" masters of the cloak and dagger.
However, there is an undeniable argument against this version: Litvinenko was a minuscule target, a fly compared to such defection giants as Oleg Gordievsky and Vladimir Rezun, who writes under the name of Viktor Suvorov.
Gordievsky was reputed to be deputy chief of station in London and exposed dozens of Russian KGB officers, while Rezun threw enough mud at dozens of military intelligence (GRU) officers in his book "Aquarium", which subsequently appeared in the United States as "Inside the Aquarium."
So, why start with Litvinenko, and use a method that rules out using it for "noble revenge" against other "sinners"?
The British police would do well to listen to their minister, who said the following about Version Five on the Kremlin's responsibility for Litvinenko's death.
"The worst thing we can do is speculate. We will end up with egg on our face," Secretary of State for the Home Office John Reid told Sky News' Sunday Live program.