What the Litvinenko report actually says
The name of Putin appears 186 times in the report issued by the English judge, but what's really written in the 320 pages? What’s the purport of the report? Did really Putin order the death of the former KGB agent?
- Friday, 22 January 2016
What’s the exact accusation made in the report on the death of Alexander Litvinenko? It’s summarized in a few words. "The open evidence that I have set out above establishes a strong circumstantial case that the Russian State was responsible for Mr Litvinenko’s death." More: "A number of the witnesses who gave evidence during the open sessions of the Inquiry expressed strong views as to President Putin’s direct involvement." Boom.
We could say that the report puts on paper what we all already knew or suspect. But what’s the purport of this accusation?
The inquiry into the death of Litvinenko
Let's start by saying what the report is not. It is not a verdict nor a police investigation. That was has carried up and led to the finding of two Litvinenko’s former colleagues, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy, still sought international protection in Russia, as the killers. So what? The report is the result of an public inquiry established by the UK Home Department that, according to the Inquiries Act 2005, appointed Judge Robert Owen. The law makes provision for Ministers to “set up formal, independent inquiries relating to particular events which have caused or have potential to cause public concern." And the case of contamination by radioactive isotope in the city of London is certainly an event of this type.
It is interesting that the Home Department has no desire to involve the possible liability of the English police, when stating that " the inquiry will not address the question of whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented the death" of Litvinenko. It forgets that he was a British citizen threatened with death.
How Mr. Owen gets to Mr. Putin?
Everything revolves around the polonium 210. The radioactive isotope "is produced in a civilian agency which is Russian atomic industry, ministry, Rosatom, and to transfer polonium to FSB would require an interagency authority, and the only authority that could authorise such transfer is the presidential administration.” Mr. Owen says that “Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me, I find that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by [the head of the FSB] Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”
Litvinenko had many good reasons to be killed, not last that he was going to testify in the Spanish investigation on the links between Putin and the Russian mafia.
But it is also Putin’s behavior after the murder to shed a disturbing suspicion on him. “Since 2006 President Putin has supported and protected Mr Lugovoy, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Lugovoy has been publicly accused of killing Mr Litvinenko. During the course of the Inquiry hearings, President Putin awarded Mr Lugovoy an honour for services to the fatherland. Whilst it does not follow that Mr Lugovoy must have been acting on behalf of the Russian State when he killed Mr Litvinenko, the way in which President Putin has treated Mr Lugovoy is certainly consistent with that hypothesis. Moreover, President Putin’s conduct towards Mr Lugovoy suggests a level of approval for the killing of Mr Litvinenko.”
The report is therefore not a legal act nor has the power to condemn anyone. Owen himself says it clearly the preface of the report: "I have no power to determine any person’s civil or criminal liability and I have not done so." The judge has acted complying with the Terms of reference set out by the Home Department in July 2014. He used all the evidence of the police investigation, questioned witnesses, analyzed declassified documents, and all these evidences are referred as facts in the report. Except for the findings referred as ‘possible’ which "will not be a finding of fact, but will indicate my state of mind in respect of the issue being considered." In the end, Owen says, "The conclusions are mine and mine alone."
Despite all this, in spite it seems to be in front of a bunch of personal opinions with almost no probative value, the report is something powerful. First, because it is still a document issued by a public authority (and accountable one) largely based on evidence gathered during a criminal investigation. Secondly, it has already moved the waves in the pond of death of Litvinenko, waves that can turn into a political tsunami toward Russia and toward Putin. Finally because, under the Inquiries Act 2005, the court may decide to reopen the case and bring to justice the other suspects.