#AvCablegate: Did an Aeroflot aircraft change hinder a murder investigation?

Aeroflot A319
Photograph: AirSpace user joerg

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.

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4 Responses to #AvCablegate: Did an Aeroflot aircraft change hinder a murder investigation?

  1. Uwe 27 December, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    While a Western Airline would have done it just on lost revenue grounds? Puhleease!

  2. Uwe 4 January, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Hi Will,
    The Litvinenko case has many more western fingerprints on it
    than russian.
    My guess is a US ( or many a western ) airline as example would have swapped planes just on revenue loos conciderations.
    For Aeroflot you instantly allege politicaly influenced action.

    Simplistic imho.


  3. Will Horton 5 January, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    Hi Uwe,

    Do note that It is the diplomat, more familiar to the case than we are, who first raised concerns of political interference in the aircraft change.

  4. Uwe 8 January, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    The “Michael Moore forbidden in Cuba” incident indicates that input to the cablepool is linked to “system gaming” on a regular basis.
    cablegate reflects pool content. But the pool content is not majorly factual information but to a very significant fraction allegation, missunderstanding and conciously introduced missinformation for furthering of objectives.

    The preload aspect made a big jump upwards in the BushII era. Taint the information gathering process to have objective grounds for rightly deciding policy ( in a way you already had preplanned )

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