Russian agents are running around Britain assassinating people with impunity, claims Buzzfeed in a series of articles published in the past week. The British authorities have ‘deliberately sidelined’ evidence indicating murder and passed off all the cases as death by natural causes. Buzzfeed, however, believes that it knows better, having been informed by ‘high ranking US intelligence officials’ that at least 14 people ‘have been assassinated on British soil by Russia’s security services or mafia groups, two forces that sometimes work in tandem.’
Let’s take a look.
In its first article, Buzzfeed looked at the case of Alexander Perepilichny, who died while out jogging in 2012. Perepilichny had previously helped launder money in the infamous case involving Sergei Magnitsky before fleeing to Britain and becoming a whistleblower. His death is currently the subject of an inquest, at which his wife has said that she does not believed that he was poisoned. Why does Buzzfeed think differently?
First, although the original autopsy revealed nothing suspicious in Perepilichny’s stomach, a later examination by an ‘independent plant expert’ identified traces of the toxin gelsemium. It is speculated that Perepilichny died after ingesting the toxin in a soup he ate just before going running, but that is only speculation. Furthermore, if Perepilichny was murdered, there is nothing in the Buzzfeed report to link that to the Russian state, rather than to crime syndicates, who were allegedly extremely angry at Perepilichny for blowing the whistle on their money laundering schemes. The assumption is just that the Russian state and the Russian mafia are one and the same thing. But nowhere is the connection proven.
Beyond that, though, the only evidence Buzzfeed is able to bring forward to justify the claim of murder is that ‘US spies said they have passed MI6 high-grade intelligence indicating that Perepilichnyy was likely “assassinated on direct orders from Putin or people close to him”.’ In other words, the entire story is based on accusations of anonymous officials in a completely different country, without any reference to the evidence used to justify the accusations. In short, it doesn’t amount to very much, but it sets the pattern for Buzzfeed’s other pieces – no actual evidence, but links between the dead men and organized crime (not, mark you, the Russian state), and unsubstantiated claims from ‘anonymous US officials’.
The second Buzzfeed article focuses on the case of Scot Young, an associate of Boris Berezovsky, who threw himself out of a window in London. Buzzfeed suggests that he was murdered by Russian agents, though just why isn’t very clear. And again, the online magazine doesn’t produce any forensic or other evidence to justify its case. Rather, it just says that ‘Four high-ranking American intelligence sources told BuzzFeed News they suspect Young was assassinated.’ Yet, the information in the article points in an entirely different direction.
As described by Buzzfeed, Young ‘had an irrepressible habit of forming dangerous associations and had become a multimillionaire almost overnight in the ’90s after developing a close friendship with the notorious London gang lord Patrick Adams’. However, he then lost all his money as a result of a failed business endeavour in Moscow. His wife left him, and a long and costly divorce battle followed as his wife’s lawyers attempted to recover money which they believed he was hiding. According to Buzzfeed, Young ‘spent three months in prison for contempt of court’ for failing to reveal where he’d hidden his money. ‘Meanwhile, his mansions in London, Oxford, and Miami were repossessed or sold to pay his debts, and his collections of classic cars, and antique furniture by his creditors.’ Next he was arrested, and ‘At the police station, doctors concluded he was “paranoid, with a manic flavour” and had a “complex delusional belief system”. They committed him under the Mental Health Act and moved him to St Charles Hospital.’ Finally, a high court judge ruled that he still had £45 million hidden away and ordered him to pay half of it to his ex-wife, plus ‘several million more to cover her legal costs.’
It was after this that Young threw himself out of a window. Given the background, suicide doesn’t seem very unlikely in this case, but Buzzfeed wants us to think it was murder because ‘Four high-ranking American intelligence sources … suspect’ it.
But, there’s more: Young wasn’t the only one to commit suicide. Several of his associates did too. That’s suspicious, surely? Yet if you look at the specific cases, you see that they follow the same pattern. Two of Young’s friends, Paul Castle and Robbie Curtis, says the article, ‘had experienced a dramatic financial collapse’. Both were seen stepping in front of a train. No doubt, then, that the Russians didn’t kill them. Likewise, a third associate, Johnny Elichaoff, who ‘was seen rolling himself off the roof of a London shopping centre in 2014 after losing all his money in a catastrophic oil deal.’ And there’s also, of course, Boris Berezovsky, who had just ‘lost his lawsuit against Abramovich and was facing financial ruin. … Navama and Berezovsky’s daughter Elizaveta told officers that in the previous months, the oligarch had talked about ending it all. And in the bathroom where the body was found, there was no sign of a struggle.’
Seems pretty clear cut, right? But not according to Buzzfeed. ‘Castle, Curtis, and Elichaoff are named in US intelligence files documenting suspected assassinations in Britain, and American intelligence sources told BuzzFeed News that such cases could be evidence of a “suicide cluster” engineered through manipulation and intimidation tactics.’ So, the Russian secret services didn’t kill them, just manipulated them into killing themselves. As for Berezovsky, ‘ [Richard] Walton, Scotland Yard’s former counter-terror commander, said that behind the scenes his department had investigated Berezovsky’s death “very thoroughly” and had not been able to find any evidence of murder, but he would never be able to shake “lingering doubt”.’
So, there isn’t any evidence that the Russians did it, but it’s suspicious. That’s good enough to determine that it was murder, surely? Besides, the suicides aren’t the only deaths mentioned in the second article. Several other people with Russian connections have died in England in the past few years (doesn’t Buzzfeed know that people do die sometimes?). An example is another of Berezovsky’s colleagues, Badri Patarkatsishvili. As Buzzfeed notes, ‘an autopsy had shown “no indication” that the death of the rotund 52-year-old was attributable to anything other than natural causes. … Patarkatsishvili … was said to have died naturally of a heart attack – a conclusion Surrey police said they had reached after “very extensive toxicological testing”, which was supported by the coroner’s verdict.’
But don’t worry, Buzzfeed has a way round that awkard that. For according to ‘Lord Tim Bell, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher … “They have all sorts of stuff that can kill you without leaving a trace”.’ Because Tim Bell would know! It’s strange, though, that they didn’t use this stuff with Perepilichny, or with Alexander Litvinenko for that matter. It’s a wonderful argument, as you can’t refute it. Ask Buzzfeed what these poisons are, and no doubt it would say that nobody knows – After all, they’re untraceable!
And then there’s article no. 3, which came out today, and delves more into the mysterious world of people manipulated into suicide by the Russian secret services. This case involves ‘Dr Matthew Puncher … a renowned government radiation scientist [who] had played a key role in uncovering one of the most shocking assassinations in a century: the death of Alexander Litvinenko.’ Puncher had travelled to Russia to investigate contamination from the Mayak nuclear facility near Chelyabinsk, as part of something called ‘Project 2.4’, and was later found dead in his kitchen having supposedly stabbed himself. Buzzfeed reports that:
When he came home, the 46-year-old was in a state of acute distress – telling his family and colleagues that he had made a serious mathematical “mistake” on Project 2.4 that was so bad he was worried he might end up in prison. … the police took evidence from Puncher’s wife Kathryn, who told them her husband had become so crippled with anxiety about his work that he had tried to hang himself with a computer cable the the week before his body was found.
Yet, Buzzfeed has its doubts. Why? Because ‘Four American intelligence officials said US spies have gathered intelligence about the scientist’s death and believe that he “was assassinated”.’ There we have them again – those ‘four intelligence officials’. But this time there’s also a relative. As Buzzfeed reports: ‘Officers never interviewed several close relatives and colleagues, some of whom suspect foul play. One source close to the family said Puncher’s death was “highly suspicious” and likely connected to work he was doing in Russia that came to the attention of the FSB. “If that’s the case,” the relative said, “it could only have come from Putin”.’
So, some random relative a) knows more about Puncher’s state of mind than his wife, and b) knows what’s going inside the FSB and the Kremlin. On that basis, we can conclude that Puncher was murdered.
Or maybe he did kill himself, but as a result of Russian manipulation – Buzzfeed doesn’t rule this out either. For as it says,
[A] former senior Scotland Yard counter-terror officer who spoke to BuzzFeed News said Puncher’s sudden change of mood should not have been enough to persuade police to rule out foul play in his death. “The state can mess up minds, it can do all sorts of things. It has research laboratories, it has science facilities,” he said. “There are all sorts of drugs that can be given to people to create depression.”
Russian pharmacists really should get a prize: as well as untraceable poisons they’ve also come up with drugs which get people to kill themselves. No doubt, they’re untraceable too. Thus, foul play can never be ruled out. Take the case of Daniel Daniel McGrory ,’a journalist for The Times who reported extensively on Litvinenko’s death – died five days before the airing of a documentary about the case in which he was interviewed.’ Buzzfeed admits that,’McGrory’s family firmly believe he died of natural causes, telling BuzzFeed News an autopsy found he had a brain haemorrhage due to an enlarged heart.’ Nevertheless, Buzzfeed considers this another case of suspected murder. After all, facts can’t be allowed to get in the way of a good story.
So there we have it – a bunch of cases involving people who either killed themselves after suffering serious financial disasters or other professional stresses, or who died of natural causes. In none of these cases, apart from the matter of the toxin in Perepilichny’s stomach, is any actual evidence of foul play produced. All the evidence Buzzfeed produces – and there’s quite a lot of it – points in the opposite direction: death by suicide or natural causes. Yet the authors choose to ignore the facts they have unearthed, and instead rely on accusations from anonymous US intelligence officials, ‘suspicions’ expressed by former British policemen who admit that they couldn’t actually find evidence of murder or who didn’t have anything to do with the investigation anyway, and doubts expressed by family members, who again don’t actually have access to any evidence. On this basis, we are meant to believe that the Russian state is committing mass murder in the UK.
Yet, if you look at the people involved, they hardly seem like the type that it would be worth wasting resources on killing. Why murder Scot Young and his colleagues? Washed-up, bankrupt businessmen with shady connections to organized crime don’t exactly fit the profile of major threats to state security which require assassination. And I can hardly see anybody wasting Vladimir Putin’s time with them.
If we are to believe Buzzfeed, moreover, we are faced not only with a Russian murder campaign, but also with a massive British cover-up. This rests on a rather strange view of the British police and coroners as corrupt flunkies willing to distort and suppress evidence to suit their political masters. That’s not my experience of how public officials in the UK do their jobs. In any case, we’re still left wondering why the British state would want to ignore the rampaging Russians in their midst. Buzzfeed, of course, has an answer to this. According to the second article:
The core reason British authorities have turned a blind eye, a current senior national security adviser to the British government told BuzzFeed News, is fear. … ministers “desperately don’t want to antagonise the Russians” and senior figures in government had told him bluntly that there was “no political appetite to deal with the Russian Federation”.
I had to laugh at this one. British ministers ‘don’t want to antagonise the Russians’?? Really?? Someone should tell that to Boris Johnson or Michael Fallon the next time they accuse the Russians of murdering civilians in Syria and abusing human rights at home. The idea is ridiculous. So are these articles.