The Norwegian Newspaper Aftenposten reports that a major source of Russophile smears against Alexander Litvinenko in the British press suddenly turns out to have Russia connections that could lead to Vladmir Putin:
The prominent English Sunday newspaper The Observer published an article where Julia Svetlichnaya [pictured above with her attorney at a London press conference] accused Litvinenko of possessing secret documents that he intended to use to blackmail prominent Russian politicians and businessmen.
Svetlichnaya, 33, told The Observer that she had made contact with Litvinenko in connection with a book she was allegedly writing about the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Svetlichnaya characterized Litvinenko as a paranoid and pathetic figure fighting a private war with the Kremlin, trying to relieve his penniless existence via blackmail, and said he invited her to take part in his plots.
Aftenposten has seen an email from a British human rights activist and Professor of Russian, and member of Litvinenko’s network, who claims to have information that Svetlichnaya was acting on instructions from “a special bureau” – a reference to the secret service FSB – to study in London in order to have easier access to exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev.
The Observer followed her lead and described her as a student at the University of Westminster in London, but there is no mention made in the articles of her background as information chief for a Russian investment firm.
On Monday Aftenposten discovered her name on a web site for the Russian investment company “Russian Investors”. Hidden on a page listing the company’s “philanthropic” activities in equestrianism, she stands listed by name and with a company email address.
Aftenposten’s London correspondent phoned the investment company’s managing director Alexei Yashechkin to learn more about Svetlichnaya and her relationship to the company.
The conversation with Yashechkin was hesitant and occasionally self-contradictory. The director both denied and admitted that Svetlichnaya had connections to the company.
He also said it must be a case of a “another girl with the same name”, without any mention that the call had anything to do with the Svetlichnaya in the news who claimed to be a student. After many much stammering and several pauses the obviously nervous director finally ended the conversation and hung up.
The British professor of Russian, who insisted on remaining nameless on this matter, accuses Svetlichnaya of being part of a “massive disinformation campaign” about the Litvinenko affair.
Human rights activist Maria Fuglevaag Warsinski called the accusations of secrecy and blackmail into question, citing Litvinenko’s efforts to publicize information he gained.
“He wanted to spread this information to as many as possible and was pleased by the help he got to disseminate this to human rights activists and advocates of democracy,” Warsinski said.
Svetlitsjnaja has identified herself as a student in London who had contact with Litvinenko before he died. She told British newspapers that Litvinenko, who was a harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had aimed to extort money from Russian politicians and businessmen.
Aftenposten, however, found Svetlitsjnaja listed as information chief on the web site for a company called “Russian Investors.” The ownership of Russian Investors is unclear, but it’s been linked to the Russian state in British media. Its chairman Aleksej Golubovitsj, a former strategic planner for the Russian oil firm Yukos that was taken over by the state, was arrested in May by Interpol and Italian police in Pisa.
When Aftenposten correspondent Hilde Harbo called Russian Investors to inquire about Svetlitsjnaja’s connections to the company, her questions went unanswered and Svetlitsjnaja’s name was quickly removed from the web site.
Svetlitsjnaja also refused to respond to repeated queries from Aftenposten, but she reappeared late last week at a press conference in London. When Harbo attempted to ask questions about her role at Russian Investors, she was cut off and verbally attacked. A man appearing with Svetlitsjnaja, identified as a fellow student, James Heartfield, called Harbo a “liar” and attempted to block further questioning.
Some Russian experts have suggested that Svetlitsjnaja may have been set up by Russian officials to discredit Litvinenko. She admitted she had no taped interviews or documentation to prove that Litvinenko was engaged in extortion, and said she failed to alert police about Litvinenko’s alleged extortion plans because she was too busy with research work.