'They killed my MI6 husband and more will die if Putin isn't stopped': The two chilling deaths of Russian nationals in Britain and the stories of the women they left behind
13:04 GMT, 16 December 2012
Marina Litvinenko is used to people comparing her life to a plot from a John le Carr novel.
Nevertheless, the widow of ex-KGB officer Alexander can’t help but feel shocked at the furore of the past week.
‘Perhaps it was naive,’ she says, sitting in a South Kensington cafe, the day after a pre-inquest hearing revealed that Alexander – or Sasha as she always called him – worked for MI6.
Determined: Marina Litvinenko claims Vladimir Putin was involved in the death of her husband, Russian ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko
'Murdered': Litvinenko was hospitalised after the radioactive substance, Polonium-210, was allegedly put in his tea. He died three days after this picture was taken on November 20, 2006
‘But I really didn’t realise it would be so big. Everywhere on TV, in the newspapers, they were saying “double agent”, “triple agent” but Sasha was not any of these things.
‘Yes, he worked for MI6 but he was not some kind of James Bond spy.
‘I understand why people are interested but for me it is very upsetting because the really important thing about the hearing was it was the first time that the Russian authorities have been cited in official documents as being responsible for Sasha’s murder. That is the really big thing.’
Personal victory: Marina Litvinenko arriving at the Pre-Inquest Review of her husband's death at Camden Town Hall in London
As the world now knows, Litvinenko, who also worked for the Russian Federal Security Service, was murdered in 2006 after the radioactive substance, Polonium-210, was allegedly put in his tea during a meeting with two ex-KGB contacts, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun.
At last week’s legal review, Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest, said assessments of confidential Government material ‘established a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko’.
For Marina, 50, this is something of a personal victory. Reserved and gracious, she does not particularly like ‘to make a noise’, but has fought with tigress-like determination to bring her husband’s killers to justice.
She does not just mean Lugovoy and Kovtun but Vladimir Putin too – or as she puts it: ‘The murderers and their mentor.’
‘Thanks to Russia, we will never have our day in court so the inquest is our only chance to find out what happened,’ she says.
‘For the last six years it has been very difficult for me and our son Anatoly to have a normal life – the life that Sasha wanted for us.
‘I can’t just close my eyes to this – that would not be fair to Sasha or to us. I still find it unbelievable that he was killed in this way, that he had to die that slow, horrible death, and be in that pain for days.
‘But this is not just for Anatoly and me. I genuinely believe that it is important for all of us. The year Sasha was killed we had been given British citizenship.
'We thought we were safe here but we weren’t. Sasha was poisoned with a radio-active substance on British soil. What next It’s true that it is still shocking but now no one is surprised when a Russian is attacked in this country and that is wrong.’
Escape: Alexander Litvinenko and his wife Marina after fleeing to London on November 4, 2000
Memories: Widow Marina Litvinenko with her husband Alexander Litvinenko on their wedding day in 1994
Last month Alexander Perepilichny, a Russian whistleblower helping prosecutors to uncover a multi- million-pound money-laundering scam, died near his Surrey home in mysterious circumstances.
And last March, Russian banker German Gorbuntsov narrowly avoided death when he was shot by a hitman outside his home in London’s Isle of Dogs.
Marina says: ‘We cannot allow ourselves to think this is normal. It is not. But as long as Putin thinks he can do whatever he wants, this behaviour will continue.
‘People have said that by naming Russia at the inquest, we risk breaking off diplomatic relations but we have to follow this through to the end. Sasha’s murder is already like a stone between Britain and Russia. There is no communication between the two security services unless it is to do with global terrorism because of this case.’
After years of stonewalling, the Russian state has said it would like to become an ‘interested party’ in the inquest, which would give it the right to make submissions to the coroner and appoint lawyers to cross-examine witnesses.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, was allegedly poisoned while drinking tea during a meeting with former KGB contacts at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, pictured, in November 2006
Marina remains sceptical. ‘Of course this is a trick. I believe they have done this because they realise the Scotland Yard investigation is very strong. Also, the Scotland Yard enquiries can only ever be criminal, not political.
‘They have found evidence against Lugovoy and Kovtun. They will hopefully prove that Lugovoy and Kovtun killed Sasha. What they cannot do is say why. The perpetrators had no motive. This is a political assassination. Sasha warned the world Russia was a Mafia state.
‘He exposed Putin’s corruption and he had to be silenced. So now Russia will “co-operate” but really they will just try to put out an alternative version. No doubt they will return to the old theme that Sasha was a spy and a traitor.’
Ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned by Polonium-210 on November 1, 2006. He died 22 days later
Last year, Russian state television claimed Litvinenko was recruited as a British spy. His life certainly had all the spy-story trappings. He had three phones: one for Lugovoy, one for MI6 and one for personal use. Then there was his dedicated handler ‘Martin’, whom he would often meet in Central London. There was also a Spanish equivalent, ‘Yuri’, as MI6 had asked Litvinenko to help the country’s security services.
Although Britain is favoured by Russian oligarchs, Spain is the preferred choice of its criminal gangs. Litvinenko had, in fact, been due to travel to Spain with Lugovoy to deliver information about links with the Mafia and Putin.
When asked if she met the mysterious Martin, Marina hesitates, not wanting to lie but unable to tell the truth. ‘I don’t want to talk too much about him before the inquest. Yes, Sasha worked for them but he was not an agent in the true sense of the word. He never worked for the British while we were in Russia. We didn’t even intend to make Britain our home when we fled in 2000.
‘Our first stop was Turkey. We went to the US embassy in Ankara and Sasha was interviewed for four hours by a man called Mark but in the end they weren’t interested and so we came to Britain.
‘When we moved to London, Sasha was interviewed at the Home Office. I presume – although I don’t know – he was questioned by the Security Services. However, he didn’t start working for them for another two years and then as an analyst and consultant.’
According to Marina, they wanted Litvinenko to advise them on a specific crime ring. He was paid but was not employed on a permanent basis.
She says: ‘There was a circle of corruption he could help with. They also asked him to help the Spanish secret services. Sasha did not tell me specifics but it was a very serious operation he’d been working on for two years.
‘I know he was very worried about the safety of certain people.’ In the end, of course, it was Litvinenko who was most at risk. His death on November 23, 2006 – 22 days after he was poisoned – was excruciating.
The full inquest next May might not result in a criminal conviction but it will finally officially tell the world how Litvinenko died.
Marina says: ‘I hope people will understand what happened and who Sasha was. And I hope that by doing that it will serve as a warning. This crime cannot go unchallenged.’
To donate to the Litvinenko Justice Foundation go to litvinenko.org.ukMy son knew too much, so they got rid of him. Now I fear for his family
The mother of a Russian whistle-blower who died last month in mysterious circumstances says she believes her son was murdered – because he ‘knew too much’.
Alexander Perepilichny was found dead on November 10 close to the 5 million mansion in Surrey that he shared with his wife Tanya and their two children.
The 44-year-old had been helping Swiss
prosecutors in a money- laundering case involving Russian officials, and
had also provided evidence against those linked to the 2009 death of
anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.
Mystery: Alexander Perepilichny was found dead close to his Surrey mansion on November 10
Although Surrey Police initially believed his death was not suspicious, concerns have mounted after a second post-mortem proved inconclusive. Detectives are now awaiting the results of toxicology tests amid fears that Mr Perepilichny may have been poisoned as he jogged around a local park.
In the first interview given by his family, his mother, Galina Perepelichnaya, a 69-year-old doctor, said: ‘They used him and, as he knew too much, they got rid of him when they simply didn’t need him any more.
‘I’m not afraid about myself – they can kill me – but I am so worried about his children, Anya and Sasha.’ Speaking from her home in western Ukraine, she added: ‘Why do you even write about it You better not stick your nose into this business. It’s dangerous.’
Last night Dr Perepelichnaya revealed that just moments before her son – known to his family by the nickname Sasha – left his home in Weybridge for the last time, his nine-year-old daughter Anya begged him to stay.
‘This was not a medical concern: she was suddenly insistent that he should not go,’ said Dr Perepelichnaya. ‘His wife Tanya told me that Sasha went jogging that day. Anya didn’t want him to go. She said, “Daddy, please stay with us”.’
‘He went to the local park for his run and didn’t come home. Tanya went to look for him.
‘When she got to the park some man had already found Sasha on a path and called an ambulance.’
Although initial theories suggested that Mr Perepilichny died of a heart condition while jogging, his mother does not believe this.
Britain's Beverly Hills: The Coach House, home of Russian Alexander Perepilichnaya, who was found collapsed and dying on the luxury estate
‘I thought at first it was a heart attack because the path where he was found was going uphill.
‘But the fact is he always had good health and, you know, they did autopsies and found nothing wrong. They cut up my boy and examined everything inside and still didn’t find anything wrong.’
She revealed her concerns for the safety of her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, who attend local schools in Surrey.
‘I don’t want everyone to talk about them because you can imagine what it’s like for the children,’ she added.
‘They have to go to school and now all the papers write that their father was connected with the Mafia. That’s something I do not believe.’
She also claimed that reports the family were wealthy were false. ‘It’s all untrue about him having lots of money,’ she said. ‘He was always working for someone and they exploited him. He was very smart.
'He was a very honest man – his father brought him up this way. He would never touch dirty money. I taught him that money is not the most important thing in life.’
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Dr Perepelichnaya revealed that despite being born into poverty in Ukraine, it soon became clear that her son was a maths genius.
She and her late husband Vladimir, a surgeon who worked at Chernobyl immediately after the explosion, shared a two-room flat with their baby son and her own elderly mother.
‘We had neither gas nor running water in the house. I went to the hospital by myself for the birth and one-and-a-half months later I went back to work,’ she added.
‘Sasha grew up into a very smart boy. At the age of three he could read and by four he could add up complicated numbers. At 12, after a National Olympiad in maths, he was invited to study at a specialist boarding school in Kiev.
‘Even though I was against the idea, his father said, “Let him do what he wants” and he left.’
Perepilichny, a joint Russian and Ukrainian citizen, was buried at a private family funeral last month.
‘Anya is good at maths, just like her father was,’ added Dr Perepelichnaya. ‘She takes after her papa. Sasha was crying the night before the funeral and pleaded, “Who’s going help me to do maths now The teachers explain it but Dad could do it so much better.” ’
She says the family now face an uncertain future in Britain.
‘I’m not even sure if they are going to stay in London,’ she added. ‘They don’t have their own house there. They were renting it and it’s only paid for another month.’