THE murder of Alexander Litvinenko was an “act of nuclear terrorism on streets of a major city”, the barrister representing his widow Marina Litvinenko has told a public inquiry.
Giving an opening statement to the inquiry on its first day, Ben Emmerson QC said the death of Mr Litvinenko, who was affectionately known as Sasha, was “an act of unspeakable barbarism”.
He said: “Mrs Litvinenko has as you know too well fought long and hard over many years to reach this day. The opening of a public inquiry into the political assassination of her husband in London.
“That murder was an act of unspeakable barbarism that inflicted on Sasha Litvinenko the most painful and lingering death imaginable.
“It was an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city which put the lives of numerous other members of the public at risk.”
Mr Emmerson said: “He was killed partly as an act of political revenge for speaking out, partly as a message of lethal deterrence to others, and partly in order to prevent him from giving evidence as a witness in a criminal prosecution in Spain, a prosecution that would have exposed Putin’s links to an organised crime syndicate operating in the country.”
The QC said after Mr Litvinenko’s death, the Kremlin “cynically” set out to portray him as a “traitor” rather than a whistleblower.
In 1998 Mr Litvinenko publicly exposed a Russian intelligence service - FSB - plot to murder Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky.
“By these actions, he had broken the culture of silence about the inner workings of the FSB,” Mr Emmerson said. “In reality he was a marked man from that moment onwards.”
Vladimir Putin, who was the head of the FSB at the time, was a “ruthless and deadly enemy for Mr Litvinenko to antagonise”.
After arriving in Britain, Mr Litvinenko continued to campaign against FSB corruption and Mr Putin’s regime.
Mr Emmerson said his book Blowing Up Russia exposed an FSB plot to blow up Russian buildings to trigger a second Chechen war.
The QC said the plot “in order to provide a pretext for a Chechen offensive was of course the very military action that swept Vladimir Putin into power”.
A second book written by Mr Litvinenko exposed alleged links between Mr Putin and an organised crime gang active in St Petersburg in the mid-nineties when he was deputy mayor of the city.
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