Moscow Times Files False Report on Litvinenko Hearing

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From: “William Dunkerley” <>
Subject: Moscow Times Files False Report on Litvinenko Hearing
Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2012

“Russia Implicated in Litvinenko Death,” The Moscow Times, December 14, 2012 (JRL #221) appears to tell what happened at a London hearing on the suspicious death of Alexander Litvinenko. Unfortunately it paints a false picture.

The story claims the hearing was told that “an initial assessment of evidence showed that the Russian state is to blame for the mysterious poisoning of the Kremlin dissident.” But it wasn’t told that.

Instead, the record reflects that Hugh Davies, lead lawyer for the inquest, presented his review of government material assembled on the 2006 case. What Davies actually said was that on first impression this specific material reflects a culpability of the Russian state.

But that’s not all he said. He qualified that comment by adding that this conclusion was reached by taking the government material in isolation. In other words, the conclusion excludes consideration of other material such as publicly available information or material that has been disclosed by other interested parties. He emphasized that the conclusion relates “solely to the effect of the government material taken alone.”

In my research, I’ve found reason to question the integrity of the government’s case. There are suspicious connections between the man who was the British Crown Prosecutor at the time of Litvinenko’s death, and the attorney who has been representing the widow Litvinenko, and with the attorney representing the Russian accused by the prosecutor of murder. There is also involvement of the wife of Tony Blair who was the UK prime minister at the time.

Davies didn’t tell the hearing that the Russian state is to blame. In fact, he was quick to clarify that the coroner’s court “has made no factual findings whatsoever so far.” What he did acknowledge is simply that on the face of things, the government has material that supports the claim of Russian state culpability. He made clear that is not necessarily the whole story. Separately, Davies went beyond surface appearances of the government’s case and did his own detailed assessment. But it was redacted from the record.

The Moscow Times took another wrong step when it quoted Mark Galeotti who it called an expert on Russian crime and a researcher at New York University. According to Galeotti, “the discovery of polonium already is very strong evidence of state involvement because only sophisticated nuclear laboratories can produce the rare element in necessary quantities.” Polonium is rumored to have been the agent of poisoning in the Litvinenko case. But Galeotti’s notion was contradicted by testimony at the hearing. Neil Garnham, lawyer for the British Home Office spoke to the polonium issue, saying, “the more likely source of the polonium, and this is a submission I make, is from an industrial or commercial application, not from a power station or nuclear weapons programme.” Also, terrorism and Russia expert Gordon Hahn has noted that “polonium is readily available on the illegal black market.”

In all, the depiction of the hearing given in the Moscow Times significantly deviates from the facts, and leaves readers with a very mistaken impression. I don’t know whether or not the Russian state was involved in Litvinenko’s death. But playing loose with the facts detracts from a real quest for the truth.

One final goof. In the Moscow Times article, author Nikolas von Twickel claimed that the hearing would be continuing on the following day, Friday, December 14. But that too was not factual. At the close of the Thursday session it was clearly announced there would not be a continuation. The hearing ended, as indicated, on Thursday. \

William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant specializing in Russia and the former Soviet Union.