An Aeroflot aircraft change hindered Germany’s investigation into the murder of a former Russian KGB spy, a German official alleges in a confidential cable made public by Wikileaks. (We’re following aviation-related matters from “cablegate” with the #AvCablegate tag.)
An investigation into the 2006 deathly radioactive poisoning in London of defected KGB spy Alexander V. Litvinenko followed the trail of a possible killer, Dmitry Kovtun. Kovtun was a business associate of former KGB officer and current Russian MP Andrei K. Lugovoi, who Britain blames Litvinenko’s death on.
Kovtun had flown Aeroflot from Moscow to Hamburg on 28 October 2006 and then on 1 November took Germanwings from Hamburg to London where he met Litvinenko with Lugovoi.
German investigators traced Kovtun’s steps through Hamburg and found radioactive traces of polonium, which Litvinenko was poisoned with, on whatever Kovtun had been in contact with.
One theory from investigators is that Kovtun took part in poisoning Litvinenko, ostensibly with Kremlin involvement, but Kovtun says he was the target of a failed radioactive poisoning attempt, hence the polonium traces. You can read the full back story here from the New York Times.
The investigation remained murky when German investigators did not find traces on the Germanwings aircraft that took Kovtun to London.
Trace detection would indicate if “Kovtun was transporting polonium or if he had been contaminated through contact with the substance prior to his arrival in Hamburg,” the cable’s American diplomat author writes.
Germany wanted to test the Aeroflot aircraft Kovtun took from Moscow to Hamburg, and “had prepared to ground it upon its next arrival in Germany,” the American diplomat writes of a conversation with a German counter-terrorism official.
The German official said “Russian authorities must have found out about German plans because ‘at the last minute’ Aeroflot swapped planes.” The German official “did not expect Aeroflot to fly the other plane to Germany any time soon”.
If Aeroflot did intentionally swap the aircraft to avoid it being grounded and tested, the action was surely done at the behest of the Kremlin, who denies having any involvement in the murder.