The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The stealthy, nefarious way an ex-KGB officer was murdered in London

Left: Alexander Litvinenko died Nov. 23, 2006, in a London hospital three weeks after he was poisoned in what friends said was a plot orchestrated by the Kremlin. Right: Litvinenko in May 2002. (Alistair Fuller/AP)

MOSCOW — Poisoned teapots, radioactive traces in posh London bars and T-shirts with menacing messages: These are among the pieces of evidence that led a high-level British inquiry to conclude Thursday that an ex-KGB officer was “probably” murdered in London with the knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin ‘probably’ approved poisoning of former KGB spy, British inquiry finds

Buried in the 328-page report that painstakingly details all that is known about the 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko are some dramatic diagrams.

For example: the fatal teapot from the Pine Bar of the posh Millennium Hotel. British police investigators found that the inside of the spout bore highly radioactive traces. So did a patch on the handle.

Tucked in a corner of the bar were a table and a seat that also had powerful traces of radioactivity. The central patch of the table — where the teapot would have been sitting — was the most radioactive, racking up more than 10,000 counts per minute of alpha radiation on a Geiger counter. The right arm of the chair also was highly radioactive.

Separately, the inquiry published an image of an eerie T-shirt given to exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky in 2010, four years after Litvinenko was killed. The report cites Berezovsky’s personal assistant as alleging that the T-shirt had been sent by Alexei Lugovoi, one of the men accused of poisoning Litvinenko.

“Polonium-210,” the front of the shirt reads. “London, Hamburg, To Be Continued.”

On the back, the shirt reads “CSKA Moscow, Nuclear Death Is Knocking on Your Door.” CSKA is a popular Moscow soccer team that occasionally plays in London. Lugovoi has in the past said that he traveled to London to watch it play matches.

This is how the report describes the T-shirt, using another spelling for Lugovoi’s last name.

“Taken on its own (and without, of course, the benefit of oral evidence from Mr Lugovoy), it would be difficult to know what to make of this T-shirt. On any view, it demonstrates that Mr Lugovoy approved of Mr Litvinenko’s murder. It was also, clearly, a threat to Mr Berezovsky. Further than that, the T-shirt could be seen as an admission by Mr Lugovoy that he had poisoned Mr Litvinenko, made at a time when he was confident that he would never be extradited from Russia, and wished to taunt Mr Berezovsky with that fact. Alternatively, it could, perhaps, be seen as an extraordinarily tasteless joke. 8.126 However, the T-shirt does not stand alone. As I have indicated, I am satisfied on the basis of other evidence (most importantly, the forensic evidence) that Mr Lugovoy did indeed poison Mr Litvinenko. Set against that context, this T-shirt can only be seen as Mr Lugovoy’s gleeful acknowledgement of his part in Mr Litvinenko’s death.”

Read more: 

Putin implicated in fatal poisoning of former KGB spy at posh London hotel

With his dying words, poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko named Putin as his killer

Timeline of events in Alexander Litvinenko investigation