By Luke Harding

1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in important London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; an extraordinary, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.

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He was an intelligent and enterprising secret agent blessed with literary gifts. Tall, handsome, and with a sweeping mane of dark black hair, he looked every inch the romantic spy abroad. The KGB had recruited him in 1980, inviting him to join its prestigious external intelligence service, the First Chief Directorate. Shvets had studied at the Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University in Moscow. It was, he wrote, a surprisingly liberal institution by the standards of the late USSR, which attracted young men and women from ninety different countries.

He was my friend,’ Berezovsky would tell Scotland Yard. At the time, Berezovsky viewed Putin as someone who would loyally serve his interests. Berezovsky encouraged the suspended Litvinenko to go and see this new director, to introduce himself and to tell him everything he knew. In his memoir, The Uzbek File, Litvinenko writes: ‘Putin’s appointment was a shock to everyone. Unlike Kovalyov, who rose through the ranks to a three-star general, Putin was a little-known colonel of the reserves working for the Kremlin administration.

He was wearing a casual jacket and carrying an expensive-looking leather laptop case. He appeared prosperous. The second, with dark hair, receding slightly, and a yellowish complexion, was clearly his companion. They weren’t behaving oddly as such. And yet there was something – a furtiveness that pricked Detective Constable Scott’s attention. ‘I though they were of interest and basically as they came through immigration controls I stopped them and questioned them,’ he recalled. Scott hadn’t been told to look out for them; he was acting on a hunch.

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