By Luke Harding
1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in critical London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; a unprecedented, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few robust enemies in Russia.
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Extra resources for A Very Expensive Poison
Litvinenko denied the charges against him and in November 1999 a judge at the Moscow garrison military court found him not guilty. Court officials removed his handcuffs. Immediately a group of masked FSB officers burst into the room and re-arrested him. It was an ambush. This time Litvinenko was transferred to Butyrka, a Moscow prison controlled and administered by the federal penitentiary service. He spent the next twenty-four hours in solitary, in a tiny shoe-box-like cell, without food, water or sanitation.
Since Soviet times, Sochi has been a holiday destination, both for the Politburo and for the ordinary citizen. There is a pebbly beach; a botanical garden; pleasant cafés and hotels along a sinuous promenade. The sanatoria have beguiling names – Rainbow, Golden Sheaf, Zhemchuzhina (Pearl) – but are typically squat, communist-era rectangles. In the afternoons guests plough up and down azure pools; by evening prostitutes sit in the lobby. This traveller had no time to linger. After arriving in Sochi he was on the move again.
He transformed himself into ‘a sort of professional Mr Nobody’. Rule two: he realised it was necessary to suck up to anybody more senior in the KGB’s hierarchy – to recognise who had ‘more rights in a bureaucratic sense’. The boss was always right. Ivanov’s rise coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and followed a late-1980s order from the KGB’s top brass to go into business. At the time, the only people who understood the free market were criminals. Ivanov established relations with the Tambovskaya crime gang and its leader Viktor Kumarin, a villain with a mop of dark hair and a neat moustache.
A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding