Putin 'Knew of Poison Plot' That Killed Former KGB Spy in London

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Byline: Tim Shipman , David Gardner

VLADIMIR Putin almost certainly knew about the plot to assassinate former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, according to one of America's top diplomats.

The explosive claim is made in secret cables published last night that paint the Kremlin boss as the head of a 'virtual mafia state' run by the successors to the KGB.

U.S. diplomats have accused the Russian prime minister of lining his pockets with 'illicit proceeds' stashed overseas and running a government hand in glove with organised crime.

The claims, revealed on the eve of the decision about where to stage the 2018 football World Cup for which Russia is vying against England, will damage Mr Putin's international reputation and plunge America's relations with Russia into the deep freeze.

The allegations of Mr Putin's role in the Litvinenko affair were made by U. S. assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried in December 2006, two weeks after the dissident was poisoned with polonium 210 in a London restaurant.

Mr Fried told a senior French diplomat, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, that Mr Putin must have known. The cable says: 'Fried, noting Putin's attention to detail, questioned whether rogue security elements could operate, in the UK no less, without Putin's knowledge.' Urging the French to take a tougher line with Moscow, he described the Russians as 'increasingly self-confident, to the point of arrogance'. Mr Litvinenko's deathbed accusations that Mr Putin was behind his radiation poisoning made headlines around the world. He claimed he was targeted after exposing the Russian secret service's violent activities in helping Mr Putin rise to power.

But the comments by Mr Fried, included in the latest WikiLeaks documents, are the first time anyone in such a senior position has pointed the finger at Mr Putin, however obliquely. …