British newspaper The Times reported on Monday that investigators believe that Alexander Litvinenko’s killers used more than USD 10 million of polonium-210 to poison him.
According to the report, preliminary findings from the post mortem examination on the former KGB spy suggest that he was given more than 10 times the lethal dose.
The Times said police do not know why the assassins used so much of the polonium-210, and are investigating whether the poison was part of a consignment to be sold on the black market.
The report said police believe that whoever orchestrated the plot knew of its effects, but are unsure whether the massive amount was used to send a message — it made it easier for British scientists to detect — or is evidence of a clumsy operation.
The Times quoted a British security source as saying, “You can’t buy this much off the internet or steal it from a laboratory without raising an alarm so the only two plausible explanations for the source are that it was obtained from a nuclear reactor or very well connected black market smugglers.”
Alexander Goldfarb, a friend of Litvinenko, told The Times: “Only a state-sponsored organization could obtain such a large amount of polonium-210 without raising suspicion on the international market.”
In Moscow, the report said, Scotland Yard detectives have asked to question further two Russian businessmen who met Litvinenko several times in the fortnight before he died, including November 1, the day he fell ill.
German police investigating
Both men, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, were contaminated with polonium-210 and remain isolated in a clinic.
The men — who have been friends since they were 12 and attended the same Moscow military academy — deny any role in the poisoning and claim that they are victims.
However, The Times reported that German police have begun a criminal investigation into Kovtun after traces of polonium-210 were found at several locations he visited in Hamburg. Neither man has explained why the radioactive poison was discovered in London in places they visited as long ago as October 16, the report said.
United Nuclear Scientific Supplies of New Mexico, one of the few companies licensed to sell polonium-210 isotopes online, told The Times that as a single unit costs about USD 69, it would take at least 15,000 orders, costing more than USD 10 million, to kill someone.
The company said that as it sold to only a handful of outlets in the United States every three months, anyone placing an order for 15,000 units would be spotted.
The Times said experts reckon that as little as 0.1 micrograms of polonium-210 would be enough to kill — the equivalent of a single aspirin tablet divided into 10 million pieces.
The killers would also have to know that polonium-210 decays rapidly; its half-life is only 138 days, the report said.