December 7, 2006, saw the funeral of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. But the suspicions, accusations and conspiracy theories were far from buried. His death, ten days earlier, had sparked a flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity, reminiscent of Cold War days.
Litvinenko had become a British citizen just weeks before he was poisoned. He left Russia with his family in 2001, claiming political asylum in the UK. From his London home, he made potentially damaging claims about his old contacts in the Kremlin.
He had a book published in which he alleged Russian authorities were behind the 1999 bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow that killed over 300 people. Russia blamed Chechen rebels for the attack and launched a new offensive in Chechnya.
On November 1 last year, at the Millennium Hotel in London, Litvinenko met two Russian men: Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun. Both were ex-KGB agents turned businessmen. Later that day at a sushi bar in Piccadilly, he met an Italian espionage expert, Mario Scaramella. Scaramella gave him a dossier on the murder of Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya. He also gave him a list of Russian secret service targets. Two days later, Litvinenko was admitted to a London hospital. He had been ill since the day he met with Scaramella and two Russians.
On November 20, Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch opened its investigation. The Russian secret service denied all accusations that Moscow was responsible for poisoning its former employee. That same day, Litvinenko was taken into intensive care where he stayed for three days before dying. Doctors had still not discovered what killed him.
But Litvinenko could still not be silenced. In a letter he had written before he died and read out by a friend, he directly accused Vladimir Putin of ordering his assassination, something the Russian President himself quickly denied. It was only then that authorities revealed the poison used to get rid of him was the radioactive element, Polonium-210.