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The Litvinenko Case, Revisited in Open Source

03/20/19 5 minute read
United Kingdom corporate records show that a key suspect in the 2006 poisoning of ex-Russian FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko served as director of a UK company that remained open for several years after Litvinenko’s death. Litvinenko was a Russian defector to the UK who had been outspoken in his criticism of the Kremlin in the years before he died.

How It All Happened

A 2016 UK public inquiry into the case concluded that Russian citizens Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun were likely responsible for the murder. Both were sanctioned in January 2017 by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the Global Magnitsky Act.

An open source investigation of these individuals revealed that Kovtun served as director of UK company Local Project Ltd, which was incorporated around the time of Litvinenko’s murder in November 2006. Kovtun held this role from the company’s founding until its closure in March 2009, long after he had been identified as a suspect.

Tracing Back Ownership

Kovtun’s company was registered at 58 Grosvenor Street in London, the same address where he – along with Lugovoi – attended business meetings with UK company Continental Petroleum Limited in the days before Litvinenko fell ill. Forensic scientists later found traces of polonium-210 at Continental Petroleum Limited’s offices.

Local Project Ltd.’s corporate records show a chain of circular ownership that centers on 58 Grosvenor Street: both its corporate secretary (Eco3 Corporate Administration Limited) and its founding shareholder (Eco3 Nominees Limited) are companies that were registered at this address during that time. Eco3 Corporate Administration Limited’s director at that time is the same person with whom Kovtun and Lugovoi met at Continental Petroleum Limited.

What Uncovered the Truth

Cross-jurisdictional public records analysis and open source information on the Litvinenko case were both vital to uncovering Kovtun’s directorship of Local Project Ltd. We know from the publicly available Litvinenko Inquiry that Kovtun was the director of a company in Russia called Global Project Ltd, and we can confirm this with Russian corporate records. UK corporate records that show “Dmitriy Kovtun” as director of Local Project Ltd. provide two pieces of information that help us confirm this is the same Dmitri Kovtun implicated in Litvinenko’s murder: a date of birth for Kovtun matching the date of birth for Kovtun given by OFAC, and a company name similar to Kovtun’s Russian company.

The information revealed in these corporate records perhaps only raises more questions in a case that puzzled investigators in multiple jurisdictions for years, such as: why was Kovtun involved in registering a company in the UK on the same trip when he allegedly poisoned Litvinenko? Was it an attempt to cover up by demonstrating that he was in the UK for business purposes, as per his visa? Why did the Eco3 companies and their leadership maintain business relationships with Kovtun via Local Project Ltd even after he was named a suspect in Litvinenko’s murder? How did Kovtun remain undiscovered as the director of Local Project Ltd more broadly? (We suspect the answer to this last question lies in the way UK corporate records from this period are structured. You won’t find Kovtun if you search the current UK Companies House website.)

Questions That Remain

While questions remain, we can state with certainty that these findings demonstrate the utility of open source corporate records in tracking and mapping nebulous business activities in multiple jurisdictions over time. These records can help government regulatory agencies, investigators, and corporate entities alike ensure that foreign actors conducting criminal activities do not go unnoticed.

The public records data that powered this research is available through Sayari Search. If you’re curious how this data could drive insights for your team, or for details on the specific individuals and companies discussed above, please reach out here.

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