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State Department offers $3 million for Russian hacker

In a sign of the growing importance of cybersecurity to businesses and federal officials, the U.S. State Department offered up on Tuesday a massive reward for a Russian hacker already on the FBI's Cyber Most Wanted list.

Through its Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, State Department officials say they are offering "up to $3 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a Russian national."
Officials say Bogachev goes by the online aliases "lucky12345" and "slavik."
According to their reward announcement, "Bogachev allegedly acted as an administrator in a scheme that installed malicious software on more than one million computers without authorization. The software, known as 'Zeus' and 'GameOver Zeus,' enabled contributors to the scheme to steal banking information and empty the compromised accounts, resulting in the theft of more than $100 million from U.S. businesses and consumers."
Hackers steal $1 billion from up to 100 banks
Last week, Russian security company Kaspersky Lab revealed that a hacking ring has stolen up to $1 billion from banks around the world. It is unclear if the two announcements are directly related.
The hackers involved in the larger heist have been active since at least the end of 2013 and infiltrated more than 100 banks in 30 countries, according to Kaspersky.
After gaining access to banks' computers through phishing schemes and other methods, they lurk for months to learn the banks' systems, taking screen shots and even video of employees using their computers, the company says.
Once the hackers become familiar with the banks' operations, they use that knowledge to steal money without raising suspicions, programming ATMs to dispense money at specific times or setting up fake accounts and transferring money into them, according to Kaspersky.
The hackers seem to limit their theft to about $10 million before moving on to another bank, part of the reason why the fraud was not detected earlier, Kaspersky principal security researcher Vicente Diaz said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Bogachev, meanwhile, is believed to be at large in Russia.

How HSBC Got Rich Off Russian Corruption

The London-based bank played both sides in the Hermitage-Gazprom showdown. Maybe it wasn’t illegal—but it certainly was scummy.
HSBC has found itself mired in international scandal after a massive leak by a former employee revealed how the London-based bank’s private Swiss subsidiary took deposits between 2005 and 2007 from warlords, arms traffickers, drug dealers, dictators and a host of politicians past and present. The exposé, published by French newspaper Le Monde and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), documents around 30,000 accounts with a collective worth of nearly $120 billion.
Highlighted in the disclosures are “the bank’s dealings with clients engaged in a spectrum of illegal behavior, especially in hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from tax authorities,” as ICIJ reported on Sunday.
There’s a prominent Russian aspect to the story as one of the named depositors is billionaire oligarch (and personal friend of Vladimir Putin) Gennady Timchenko, who was sanctioned by the United States in March 2014 for his role in providing “material or other support to” Russian government officials. (There’s a rumor that sometime in the 1990s, Putin and Timchenko, who holds Finnish citizenship, were arrested in Helsinki for drunk and disorderly conduct; a rap sheet is said to exist with the two men’s mug shots.)
Timchenko’s designation carried the blockbuster revelation that Gunvor, the Swiss commodities trader he co-founded, was itself a vehicle for Putin’s personal self-enrichment: “Putin has investments in Gunvor,” the U.S. Treasury notice stated, “and may have access to Gunvor funds.” Not long before the sanctions were announced, Timchenko, who is worth an estimated $14.1 billion, was said to have divested his stake in Gunvor. Then, in November 2014, it was announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, helped by the Justice Department, was investigating Timchenko for money laundering. In 2013, Reuters disclosed that Timchenko had hired lobby firm Patton Boggs to persuade the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the export credit agency of the U.S. government, to finance his purchase of up to 11 Gulfstream luxury jets—a deal that was eyebrow-raising at the time and is now rendered illegal by sanctions.
Timchenko wasn’t the only Russian keeping accounts with HSBC, however. As reported by the newspaper Vedomosti, Yury Kosarev, the former chairman of the Fund for Social Insurance and the deputy head of the Federal Health Care Agency, kept $2.5 million in the Swiss bank between 2006 and 2007. Pyotr Nizdelsky, Russia’s former deputy energy minister, placed deposits in the bank in 2004, the same year he quit government service. Along with his wife Lidiya Nidzelskaya, he held $11 million between 2006 and 2007, the leaked documents reveal.
The most intriguing Russian angle to the HSBC embarrassment involves Hermitage Capital, once the wealthiest investment fund in Russia and today known more for its crusading founder, Bill Browder, who has just released his memoir, Red Notice. The book details his years-long struggle with the Russian government, starting with his expulsion from the country in 2005, to the defrauding of Russian taxpayers of $230 million using stolen Hermitage companies, to the wrongful arrest and jailhouse murder of his tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the theft and then fell victim to its perpetrators.
The interior and tax ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB)—the successor to the KGB—and the Russian judiciary all joined in a conspiracy with a transnational organized crime syndicate to pull off this heist and murderous cover-up, which culminated with the posthumous “trial” of Magnitsky in 2013. (Browder was also tried in absentia and sentenced to nine years.) In 2012, Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which aims to ban and freezes any stateside assets of Russian officials credibly accused of gross human-rights violations.
The Magnitsky affair is a 21st-century Kirov assassination or Reichstag fire in that it not only raised the curtain on Putin’s thermidor but seems to serve as a reference point to every major scandal or controversy involving state officials, including the sacking of former Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
“They don’t care about the source of their money, even though in HSBC’s case, they knew quite well from Hermitage what Gazprom was up to.”
Before becoming persona non grata in Russia, as well as the target of its numerous attempts extradition attempts, Browder made a name for himself in Moscow by investigating corruption in major Russian companies—the biggest being Gazprom, the state-owned gas giant, which had sold off valuable gas fields between 1996 and 1999 for pittances. In one astonishing example, 53 percent of Sibneftegaz, a Gazprom subsidiary, was sold to a group of buyers—including the brother and nephew of Gazprom’s then-CEO Rem Vyakhirev—for 0.3 percent of its estimated cost. Browder’s discoveries not only caused a whirlwind in the financial press and markets, they also—initially—impressed Putin, who fired Vyakhirev in 2001 and replaced him with Alexei Miller, who runs Gazprom to this day.
As recounted in Red Notice, Hermitage Capital began as a partnership between Browder and Edmond Safra, the billionaire investor, in 1996. However, Safra, via his Republic National Bank, sold his stake in the fund in 1999—to HSBC, making the now embattled bank Browder’s new institutional partner as well as the administrator of Hermitage. Browder, a British citizen, leaned on Clive Bannister, the CEO of HSBC’s private bank, to help resolve his visa difficulties with Moscow. HSBC, Browder wrote, was “an enormous bureaucratic bank…wholly uninspiring when it came to moneymaking, but…world class when it came to dealing with the British establishment.” Nothing came of that effort, but it was the least the bank could do given that it would go on to recoup over $200 million from Browder’s fund in the subsequent two-year period: According toits own financial statements, HSBC made $117 million in 2006 and $108 million in 2007, all from the partial sale of Hermitage investments.
Nonetheless, during that same period, HSBC’s Swiss bank was only too happy to take deposits from Gazprom officials or their offspring. Farit Gazizullin, a company board member since 1998, was one. The former head of the Russian Ministry of State Property, he and his wife, according to Vedomosti, held $3.6 million in an HSBC account between 2006 and 2007. Vadim Sheremet, the son of Vyacheslav Sheremet, former deputy director of the management of Gazprom, “opened an account in the Swiss bank in July 2006, and from 2006-2007 maintained $10.4 million there. During the time when Gazprom was led by Rem Vyakhirev, Vadim Sheremet owned shares in several delivery and contract companies of Gazprom along with Vyakhirev’s children and then-prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin,” the newspaper also noted.
This wasn’t illegal, it was just scummy.
“This is rather typical behavior of big banks,” said Tom Mayne, a campaigner with the London-based transparency watchdog Global Witness. “They don’t care about the source of their money, even though in HSBC’s case, they knew quite well from Hermitage what Gazprom was up to—ceding business to these mysterious intermediary companies without any reason to do so. For HSBC to then disregard that information and turn around and accept the money from the very people Hermitage was exposing seems very dubious. It’s like an arms dealer selling arms to both sides.”

Mark Galeotti, a specialist on Russia’s security services and the Russian mafia, agrees. “What this really demonstrates is that the parallel challenge to global organized crime is global organized malfeasance. There are so many activities which we would frankly think of as immoral but nonetheless a combination of laws not having caught up yet and financial institutions gleefully taking advantage of that opportunity. In the case of Russia, it’s a particular problem because what it means is for years we have complained about the opacity and corruption of the Russian system while making money off it and also facilitating it.”

Police Say 'Only' 8 Mob Bosses Remain in Moscow

At least eight mob bosses currently reside in Moscow, with many of the 44 registered having been chased out of the city, a police representative said Thursday.
"Different sources offer different information about how many mob bosses are in Moscow. A total of 44 are registered, but only eight actually live on the territory of Moscow," Mikhail Gusakov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's manhunt unit, was cited as saying by Interfax news agency on Thursday.
Some of those registered live outside of Russia or Moscow, he said, while others have already been prosecuted for their crimes, Interfax reported.
Gusakov noted that in 2014 nine mob bosses were brought to justice, Interfax reported.
In late December, the Rosbalt news agency said "several dozen" mob bosses had converged in Moscow for the largest meeting of the criminal underworld in years.
Moscow has been the scene of many high-profile mob hits, including the 1990s-style assassination of Aslan Usoyan, better known as Grandpa ("Ded") Khasan, in 2013. Usoyan was killed by a sniper in broad daylight while exiting a restaurant in central Moscow, triggering fears of a gangland war erupting in the city.
The phenomenon of "vory v zakone," or thieves-in-law, gained momentum with the fall of the Soviet Union, when the leaders of prison groups in the gulags established a flourishing black market that exploited the instability of the new government. Russia's biggest organized crime organizations comprise Georgians, Armenians and Azeri nationals.

In its heyday in the late '90s, Russia's various organized crime factions had such great reach that then-director of the FBI Louis Freeh described the Russian mafia as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, though he later retracted the claim, the BBC reported.

Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Henry Ridgwell

With relations between Russia and the West spiraling to new lows over Ukraine, bilateral ties between London and Moscow themselves are becoming more strained as the inquest into the murder of a former Russian spy gets underway.
A judge this week began hearings into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after ingesting polonium-210, a highly radioactive isotope.
British investigators have accused two Russians of poisoning Litvinenko’s tea at a London restaurant. The two men, one of whom is now a member of Russia’s parliament, have repeatedly denied involvement. Moscow has refused British requests to extradite them, citing constitutional restrictions.
Litvinenko had fled to Britain in 2000 after making sensational accusations about terrorist bombings in Russia. On his deathbed, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his assassination.
Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for the Litvinenko family, told the panel earlier this week that Litvinenko’s death was an act of terrorism.
“It is and 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,” he said.
“The startling truth which will be revealed by the evidence in this inquiry is that a significant part of Russian organized crime is organized directly from the offices of the Kremlin,” he said.
The British government originally rejected holding an inquiry, partly on the ground that it could damage relations with Russia. The inquiry will take evidence for eight weeks, and observers expect more damaging accusations to emerge against the Russian government.
Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said Russia’s actions in Ukraine demonstrate  Moscow’s willingness to order her husband’s murder.
Also this week, Royal Air Force fighter jets intercepted two Russian long-range bombers, known as Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, close to British airspace, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador to complain.
Similar Russian flights have become more frequent, not only near Britain but also near American airspace and that of other NATO allies since the conflict erupted in Ukraine last year.
Elizabeth Quintana, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute, said the Russian aircraft normally skirt Britain's far northern airspace. This time, the flight path was different, she said.
“They were right down on the south coast over the Channel between the UK and France. Also, they were flying without their transponders on … there was particular concern because that means they would have crossed very heavy trans-Atlantic traffic,” she said.
She said Moscow could have directed its bombers toward Britain in response to the Litvinenko inquiry.

Both the West and Russia, she said, “are probing each other’s defenses, testing how quickly they react, seeing if there are any weaknesses. And also signaling to each other, signaling discontent.”

Poisoned KGB Agent Said Putin Has A 'Good Relationship' With One Of The World's Top Mobsters


Before his death by poisoning, ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, recorded a tape.
In it, he claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a “good relationship” with one of the most notorious mobsters in the world, a Ukrainian man named Semion Mogilevich.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that Mogilevich, one of the top 10 most wanted fugitives, has spent the last few decades trafficking drugs, trading nuclear material, and orchestrating contract murders and international prostitution.
Indicted in 2003 for countless fraud charges, Mogilevich now primarily lives in Moscow. His location allows him to maintain close ties to the Bratva, or The Brotherhood, aka the Russian mob.
The ‘Boss Of Bosses’
A 5’6″ and a portly chain smoker, Mogilevich is known as “boss of bosses” in one of the biggest mafia states in the world.
Born in 1946 in Kiev, Ukraine, Mogilevich once acted as the key money laundering contact for the Solntsevskaya Bratva, a super-gang based in Moscow. He has since held over 100 front companies and bank accounts in 27 different countries, all to keep the cash flowing.
In 1998, the FBI released a report naming Mogilevich as the leader of an organisation with about 250 members. Only in operation only four years, the group’s main activities included arms dealing, trading nuclear material, prostitution, drug trafficking, oil deals, and money laundering.
Between 1993 and 1998, however, Mogilevich caught the FBI’s attention when he allegedly participated in a $US150 million scheme to defraud thousands of investors in a Canadian company, YBM Magnex, based just outside Philadelphia, which supposedly made magnets. With his economics degree and clever lies, Mogilevich forged documents for the Securities and Exchange Commission that raised the company’s stock price nearly 2,000%.
When asked about YBM by BBC in 2007, Mogilevich replied: “Well if they found old-fashioned hanky panky [i.e., suspicious activity], it’s up to them to prove it. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to FBI files.”
“What makes him so dangerous is that he operates without borders,” said Special Agent Peter Kowenhoven, who has worked on Mogilevich’s case since 1997. “Here’s a guy who managed to defraud investors out of $US150 million without ever stepping foot in the Philadelphia area.”
In 1998, the Village Voice reported on hundreds of previously classified FBI and Israeli intelligence documents. They placed Mogilevich, also known as “Brainy Don,” as the leader of the Red Mafia, a notorious Russian mob family infamous for its brutality. Based in Budapest, members held key posts in New York, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and even New Zealand.
“He’s the most powerful mobster in the world,” Monya Elison, one of Mogilevich’s partners in a prostitution ring, told the Voice. He claimed he’s Mogilevich’s best friend.
Geopolitical Influence
Arguably one of Mogelivich’s most concerning characteristics is his influence in Europe’s energy sector. With only a $US100,000 bounty on his head, he controls extensive natural gas pipelines in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Right now, Russia supplies about 30% of Europe’s gas. Ironically, the country’s largest pipeline to the rest of Europe shares a name with the mob — Bratstvo.
John Wood, a senior anti-money laundering consultant at IPSA International wrote an entire report on Mogelivich. According to his research, the Ukrainian-born Russian mobster had long planned his stake in Europe’s gas.
In 1991, Mogilevich started meddling in the energy sector with Arbat International. For the next five years, the company served as his primary import-export petroleum company. Then, in 2002, an Israeli lawyer named Zeev Gordon, who represented Mogilevich for more than 20 years, created Eural Trans Gas (ETG), the main intermediary between Turkmenistan and Ukraine. Some reports show that Gordon registered the company in Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash’s name.
After that, Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and Ukraine’s Centragas Holding AG teamed up to establish Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo (RUE) to replace ETG. Firtash and Gazprom reportedly roughly split the ownership of RUE.
In 2010, however, then prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, said she had “documented proof that some powerful criminal structures are behind the RosUkrEnergo (RUE) company,” according to WikiLeaks. Even before, the press had widely speculated about Mogilevich’s ties to RUE.
Although Firtash has repeatedly denied having any close relationship with Mogilevich, he has admitted to asking permission from the mobster before conducting business in Ukraine as early as 1986, Reuters recently reported. At the request of the FBI, Firtash was arrested in Austria for suspicion of bribery and creating a criminal organisation.
Mogilevich may even have a working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a published conversation between Leonid Derkach, the former chief of the Ukrainian security service, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.
“He’s [Mogilevich] on good terms with Putin,” Derkach reportedly said. “He and Putin have been in contact since Putin was still in Leningrad.”
A Free Man
In 2007, Mogelivich told BBC that his business was selling wheat and grain.
In 2008, however, Russian police arrested Mogelivich, using one of his many pseudonyms, Sergei Schneider, in connection with tax evasion for a cosmetics company, Arbat Prestige. Mogilevich ran that company with his partner, Vladimir Nekrosov. Three years later, the charges were dropped.
Considering the US doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, as long as Mogilevich stays within Putin’s borders, the “boss of bosses” will likely remain a free man. He’s believed to have Russian, Israeli, Ukrainian, and Greek passports.

The Rise of the Russian Mafia Myth

By Mark Galeotti

It probably reflects the current heightened tensions between Russia and the West, a time when many are willing to believe the very worst about Russians, that I have also noticed an upswing in queries coming my way about "Russian mafiosi." How powerful are they, how closely do they work with the state, how great a threat are they abroad?
The trouble is that often these are not Russians, and very rarely can they actually be considered a mafia. The clumsy stereotypes this demonstrates also says something about how the West sometimes gets Russia wrong.
Sometimes the gangsters are Russian passport holders, to be sure, but of non-Russian ethnicity. One such was Aslan Gagiyev, the North Ossetian gang leader arrested in Vienna on Jan. 17. Often, though, they are not even that — a "Russian mafia" in the United States or Europe, for example, will often turn out to be made up of Armenians, Georgians, Ukrainians or Belarussians. The official U.S. law enforcement term is now "Eurasian organized crime," but "Russian" is still widely used as a catch-all for everyone from Azeris to 
 Not surprisingly, then, their relationship with the Russian authorities will also be varied and often conflicted. Russia undoubtedly has a serious problem with corruption, and the interpenetration of business, crime and politics. There is likewise evidence of, from time to time, active links between government agencies and organized crime. Many of the "self-defense forces" which cropped up in Crimea alongside the Russian "polite people" appear to have been drawn from the heavies of local gangs, for example.
Corruption is not a Russian monopoly, though. More to the point, the relationship is complex. Connections tend to be several times removed: A powerful businessman calls in a favor from a local governor, for example, on behalf of a client, who in turn is in bed with organized crime. It is not as if Russia's kingpins are lining up outside the Duma or the Kremlin with suitcases of cash and wish lists.
It also obscures the fact that law enforcement continues. Russia is not a country that can simply be characterized as a "mafia state." There are honest police officers and judges out there trying to do their jobs, even if admittedly not always in favorable conditions. The arrest of the aforementioned Gagiyev, for instance, followed a joint operation between the Russian and Austrian authorities.
Then let's consider that troubling word "mafia." There is a whole criminological literature on what distinguishes a "mafia" from other forms of organized crime, but in general use it has all kinds of implications.
A "mafia" is a close-knit gang, a ruthless hierarchy with a godfather at the top, his lieutenants below and foot soldiers at the bottom, like some underworld army. There is mistrust, but also loyalty, maybe some kind of code of behavior, honor among thieves.
Frankly, you'd be hard pressed to find this within much Western organized crime these days, but Russian organized crime is even more postmodern. The big organizations, such as the infamous and transnational Solntsevo, are loose networks of local gangs, criminal businessmen and autonomous groups that form and reform as opportunities open and close.
The days of the thieves' code, of strict adherence to the ponyatiya ("codes") are long gone. Especially among ethnic Russians, only essentially local — city, town or neighborhood — gangs retain any strong hierarchical basis.
So talk of the "Russian mafia" then says several things about how the West looks at Russia, especially now.
It tends to assume homogeneity where there is actually bewildering variety. All of Eurasia is still too often "Russia" and a range of different criminal actors, operations and subcultures are treated as one and the same.
Second, it reinforces a notion that whatever comes out of Russia and Eurasia is somehow specially and uniquely dangerous. Yes, organized crime in the region is violent and vicious, but set alongside the gangs of Mexico or Brazil, the Italian Camorra or the American MS-13, they might almost seem models of decorum.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, it sees organization and long-term strategy where there is often just anarchy and opportunism.
This is also very much a theme of Western perspectives on current policy, especially on Ukraine, where the usual cliches — such as Putin the "chess grandmaster" or the "judo black belt" — are deployed to present the Kremlin as a sinister strategist.
In the West we have no problem seeing our own leaders as hapless victims of events, grasping at ad hoc measures to avoid tough and unpopular decisions, or driven by prejudice and simplistic assumptions. Yet somehow we tend at the same time to ascribe deeper, subtler and more deliberate designs to our rivals.
At a time when there is a widening gap between Russia and the West, it is comforting to use every opportunity to demonize the other side. But just as in the West we are dismayed to see glib and inaccurate talk of "Nazis" and "imperialists" being mobilized by Russian nationalists, the idiom of talk of the "Russian mafia" demonstrates a degree of caricature on the other side, too.

Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University.

Putin’s Polonium-Poison Revenge on ex-Spy Laid Bare in UK Inquiry

Details of the defector Alexander Litvinenko’s gruesome death in 2006 finally get aired in a public hearing. Thousands of innocents were put at risk.

LONDON — Vladimir Putin was today accused of running Russia like a reckless mob boss, ordering an international act of nuclear terrorism that risked thousands of lives as part of a personal vendetta.
The allegations against him and his murderous “Mafia state” were made at the start of a public inquiry into the death of a Russian dissident who was assassinated in London with radioactive poison.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who defected to Britain, died in November 2006 after drinking a cup of tea laced with Polonium-210 at an upmarket hotel near Buckingham Palace.
The High Court judge presiding over the inquiry said classified evidence had already established that there was a “prima facie case” linking the Russian state to the murder of Litvinenko, whose death after he swallowed the rare radioactive isotope was slow and agonizing.
Ben Emmerson, the lawyer representing Litvinenko’s widow, who has been granted access to secret intelligence files, said he would show that Putin and his associates had ordered the assassination of a man who was working with the British authorities.
“He had to be eliminated—not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people—but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power,” said Emmerson.
The Litvinenko family claims “Sasha”—as he was known to his friends—became a target for Putin when he quit the FSB, the renamed successor of the KGB, and began to speak out against its brutal and illegal operations. Head of the FSB at the time? Vladimir Putin.
Litvinenko’s outspoken attacks on Putin continued until he escaped Russia on a forged passport while he was awaiting trial. The U.S. reportedly turned down his attempt to defect, but he made it to London and succeeded in claiming asylum.
The poisonous trail would act “like the breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel.”
From what he saw as the relative safety of London, he renewed his attacks on Putin. He wrote a book claiming that the Russian apartment bombings that presaged the Chechen War in 1999 were an FSB false flag operation, not the work of Chechen terrorists.
He claimed Putin had links to Russian organized crime, and that the president was responsible for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a pioneering, dissident journalist killed shortly before Litvinenko was poisoned. The claims showed no sign of slowing down until he was taken ill at the start of November 2006. He was dead three weeks later. His body was so permeated with radioactivity that he was buried inside a lead-lined coffin at Highgate cemetery, in North London (also, as it happens, the last resting place of Karl Marx).
On his death bed, Litvinenko’s accusations continued. “As I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death,” he said. “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.”
Emmerson told the public inquiry that Litvinenko’s final allegation would be proved beyond doubt.  “When all the open and closed evidence is considered together Mr. Litvinenko’s dying declaration will be borne out as true—the trail of polonium traces leads not only from London to Moscow but directly to the door of Mr. Putin’s office,” he said. “Vladimir Putin should be unmasked by this inquiry as nothing more or less than a common criminal dressed up as a head of state.”
The judge heard that Litvinenko began working for Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, in 2003. In exchange for information about the inner workings of Moscow and the FSB, his handler “Martin” would arrange consultancy fees to be paid into his bank account.
Before he was killed, Litvinenko had also been working with the Spanish authorities who were planning to bring a court case that would expose the links between a criminal organization known as the Tambov-Malyshev gang and the Kremlin.
“He was killed, we say, 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 could have exposed President Putin’s link to an organized crime syndicate,” Emmerson said.
The inquiry heard that Litvinenko had survived at least two other assassination attempts including one in 2004 when his home was firebombed by two Chechen men.
The British authorities believe that Litvinenko eventually succumbed to an assassination attempt by one man named as Dmitri Kovtun and another named as Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard. Litvinenko met with the men in London on two occasions that fall. It emerged today that postmortem examinations of Litvinenko’s hair revealed that he was exposed to the radioactive polonium isotope on two occasions.
Robin Tam, a lawyer acting for the inquiry, said Litvinenko had remembered feeling sick at around the time of their first meeting in mid-October. “Mr. Litvinenko recalled vomiting on one occasion about two or three weeks before being hospitalized,” Tam said. “It suggests two things—attempts to poison Mr. Litvinenko were made at both meetings and that those attempts met with some success on both occasions.”
Tam said the discovery of traces of polonium at different places across London had resulted in a public safety alert. “Many thousands of members of the public, including British residents and visitors from overseas, might have been at risk from radioactivity,” he said.
The inquiry heard that the only facility in Russia where polonium-210 is produced is Avangard, a nuclear laboratory owned by the Russian Federal Atomic Agency.  “This was clearly a professional assassination which was meant to leave no trace,” said Emmerson. “This was not some ham-fisted hit by a criminal gang.”
He said polonium was used because the Russians thought it would leave no trace. The radioactivity was only discovered when police acted on a hunch and called in scientists from the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Once they knew what they were looking for, the poisonous trail would act “like the breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel.”
Lugovoi and Kovtun have been invited to give evidence via satellite link at the inquiry, which is scheduled to last ten weeks. Both men deny any involvement and remain in Russia, where they have become minor celebrities

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko may have been poisoned twice


Long-awaited probe into ex-KGB officer's death via radioactive poisoning gets underway in London
Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko 'was poisoned with polonium not once, but twice,' inquiry is told
Alexander Litvinenko was killed for trying to expose Putin's 'mafia state,' lawyer for British inquiry says
The former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko may have survived a previous poisoning attempt before a lethal dose of polonium was slipped into his tea at a London hotel, a long-awaited judicial inquiry into his death was told Tuesday.
The former KGB officer, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was living in Britain and doing consultancy work for the British intelligence service MI-6 when he met two Russians for a drink at the Millennium Hotel in November 2006. Weeks later, he suffered an agonizing death, apparently from the effects of radiation poisoning.
The strange case soured relations between Britain and Russia for years. On his deathbed, Litvinenko claimed that he had been poisoned on Putin’s orders.
Russia has denied the claim and has refused to extradite the two men identified by Britain as the prime suspects, Dmitry Kovtun and former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi. They have been invited to give evidence to the inquiry via video link from Russia.
On the opening day of the inquiry into Litvinenko's death, lawyer Robin Tam said evidence would be heard that the Russian dissident "was poisoned with polonium not once, but twice."
Litvinenko had complained of feeling ill around the time of another meeting with Kovtun and Lugovoi at a security company in mid-October, a couple of weeks before he was hospitalized, Tam said, according to British news reports. Tam is counsel to the inquiry.
 Britain’s decision to open a public investigation led by a senior judge came after a separate official inquest into Litvinenko’s death collapsed. The judge in the earlier proceedings said that the inquest was not equipped to deal with potential issues of national security.
Ben Emmerson, a lawyer representing Litvinenko’s family at the inquiry, said that he was killed for trying to expose Putin’s “mafia state.”
“He had provided information to officials in this country, in Italy and in Spain who were investigating Russian organized crime syndicates and their relationship to the Kremlin,” Emmerson was quoted as saying Tuesday by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “And he had exposed a number of crimes committed or authorized by Mr. Putin personally.”
“He had to be eliminated – not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people – but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power.”

Spy murdered for threatening to expose ties between Vladimir Putin and organized crime, inquiry told

 Gordon Rayner and Tom Whithead, The Telegraph

Vladimir Putin is a “common criminal dressed up as a head of state” who allegedly ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to stop the former spy exposing him, the inquiry was told.
Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko poisoned with polonium not once, but twice, lawyers say
Former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium not once but twice, a British judge was told Tuesday, as an inquiry opened into the slaying one lawyer called an act of nuclear terrorism ordered by Moscow.
Ben Emmerson, attorney for Litvinenko’s widow, said the KGB spy turned Kremlin critic was the victim of an “assassination by agents of the Russian state.”
He said the 2006 killing “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.”
Litvinenko was murdered for trying to reveal Putin’s close links to organized crime and a cabal of crime lords who prop up his corrupt regime, it was claimed.
Queen’s counsel Ben Emmerson, representing the Litvinenko family, said the trail behind the “act of unspeakable barbarism” led directly to the Russian president’s door.
Emmerson said that Russia was a “Mafia state” where the “intimate relationships” between the Kremlin and Russian organized crime syndicates around the world were so close as to be “effectively indistinguishable.”
Litvinenko could even identify crimes committed or authorized by Putin personally, it was claimed.
The seeds of hatred that Putin had towards his former agent which would eventually lead to the murder were first sown in clashes more than eight years before, the inquiry was told.
Putin was a “ruthless and deadly enemy” and “we find Mr. Putin’s fingerprints as clearly as we find the traces of nuclear material in the forensic evidence,” he said.
In his opening statement, Emmerson said: “Vladimir Putin should be unmasked by this inquiry as nothing more or less than a common criminal dressed up as a head of state.”
“The startling truth which will be revealed by the evidence in this inquiry is that a significant part of Russian organized crime is organized directly from the offices of the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a Mafia State.”
Litvinenko accused Putin of his murder from his deathbed in what Emmerson described as a “political assassination.” He said there was “not the slightest doubt” that he was murdered by suspects Andey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun and on the orders of Putin.
“He had to be eliminated – not because he was an enemy of the Russian State itself or an enemy of the Russian people – but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power,” he said.
The history between Putin and Litvinenko began in 1997 when the latter – still a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent – was given orders to kill Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Queen’s counsel Robin Tam, counsel to the inquiry said.
Litvinenko thought it “improper” and the following year met Putin – then head of the FSB – to urge him to call off the assassination.
He went on to stage a televised press conference where he revealed the story, reporting the order to kill Berezovsky and denouncing corruption in the Russian intelligence service.
Tam said: “Is it possible that Litvinenko’s actions in Moscow on that day in November 1998 led to him being poisoned in London eight years later?”
Once in Britain, Litvinenko became an outspoken critic of Putin.
He also accused the Russian president of ordering the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist.
In a direct message to Putin made from his death bed, he said: “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.”