Litvinenko was killed after he made a personal contact with an old fellow KGB serving Russian government and who was his friend.
Dramatic details of his life as an agent of the Secret Intelligence Service emerged at a pre-hearing of an inquest into his death as the coroner was told that documents submitted to the inquiry by the Government proved a prima facie case that the Russian state was involved in his murder.
The 43-year-old died of radioactive polonium-210 poisoning after meeting fellow former KGB contacts for tea at a Mayfair hotel in November 2006.
Yesterday the hearing was told that Mr Litvinenko was a paid agent of MI6 and had met his handler “Martin” the day before the assignation with his former Russian counterparts.
Ben Emmerson QC, representing his widow Marina, was arguing that the British failed to protect him sufficiently: “At the time of his death Mr Litvinenko had been for a number of years a registered and paid agent in the employ of MI6.”
He continued: “That relationship between the two, between Mr Litvinenko and his employers MI6, is sufficient to trigger an enhanced duty by the British government to ensure his safety when tasking him on dangerous operations.”
Neil Garnham QC, representing the Government, responded that he could not comment on the revelation: “I can neither confirm nor deny.”
The hearing before High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, sitting as Assistant Deputy Coroner, learned that the Russian government applied this week to be represented as an “interested party” in the case.
The inquest, due to be held next May will examine issues surrounding Mr Litvinenko’s death including the alleged involvement of Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, former KGB contacts who met with Mr Litvinenko that day. Both have denied allegations that they killed him.
Litvinenko, was a triple agent working for Spanish security services as well as MI6 when he died, the coroner heard. Evidence found by the British Government claims to show the Russian state was involved in his murder, he was told.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, died in November 2006 after he was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea at a meeting, allegedly with two Russians – former KGB contacts Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun – at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square. He died three weeks later.
Prosecutors named Lugovoy as the main suspect in the case but Russia has refused to extradite him to the UK for questioning.
The coroner heard that the former KGB agent Mr Litvinenko was working for both MI6 and the Spanish intelligence services.
Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death, said assessments of confidential material submitted by the British Government had “established a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.
Mr Emmerson said the inquest should also consider whether MI6 failed in its duty to protect against a “real and immediate risk to life”.
It is claimed that Mr Litvinenko had been working for MI6 for a number of years, and along with the Spanish secret service had been investigating the Russian mafia shortly before his death.
He would regularly meet with an MI6 handler, named only as Martin, in central London and was paid by both the British and Spanish secret services into a joint bank account he held with his wife, the hearing was told.
Assessments of confidential material submitted by the British Government had shown no evidence to suggest it was involved in the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko or that it failed to take necessary steps to protect him, Mr Davies said.
The evidence also ruled out the involvement of other parties, including friend Boris Berezovsky, Chechen-related groups and the Spanish mafia, he added.
Mr Emmerson said Mr Litvinenko had been asked by MI6 to work with the Spanish secret service and the inquest should consider whether “detailed risk assessments” were carried out.
He had been due to travel to Spain with Mr Lugovoy shortly before his death to provide intelligence in an investigation into the Russian mafia’s links to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Emmerson said.
The investigation was looking at links between Russian political parties, organised crime and arms trafficking, he added.
Neil Garnham QC, representing the Home Office, told the hearing he could “neither confirm nor deny” whether Mr Litvinenko was employed by British intelligence services.
The inquest next year will be held before High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, who has been appointed assistant deputy coroner.