British open murder inquiry after Putin critic strangled

Nikolay Glushkov (68) was linked to late Boris Berezovsky, once a rival of Russian leader

Police have launched a murder investigation into the death in London this week of a Russian exile who had been an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. The announcement came after a postmortem found that Nikolay Glushkov, a 68-year-old businessman, had been strangled.

Mr Glushkov, who was a close associate of the late Boris Berezovsky, once one of Mr Putin's most powerful rivals, was found dead at his home in south London on Monday.

"The Met police's counter-terrorism command, which has led the investigation from the outset, is now treating Mr Glushkov's death as murder. As a precaution, the command is retaining primacy for the investigation because of the associations Mr Glushkov is believed to have had," a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

His death came a week after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a rare nerve agent in Salisbury but police said there was no evidence of a link between the two incidents.

“Mr Glushkov, a retired financial director, was a Russian national who had lived at that address for two years. At this stage there is nothing to suggest any link to the attempted murders in Salisbury, nor any evidence that he was poisoned,” the spokesman said.

Fraud and money-laundering

A former deputy director of the Russian state airline Aeroflot, Glushkov was jailed in 1999 for five years after he was charged with fraud and money-laundering. He moved to Britain in 2006 and became a critic of Mr Putin, working closely with Berezovsky, who was found hanged in the bathroom of his home in Berkshire in 2013.

Despite the lack of any apparent link with the Salisbury incident, the murder investigation will put added pressure on London's strained relationship with Moscow. Prime minister Theresa May this week ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level bilateral contacts with Russia, which she said was "highly likely" to have been behind the Salisbury poisoning.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson went further on Friday, declaring that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Mr Putin personally ordered the nerve agent attack.

"We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the second World War. That is why we are at odds with Russia," Mr Johnson said.

‘Unforgivable breach’

The Russian president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov angrily rejected the accusation against Mr Putin, which he described as unforgivable. "Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behaviour," he said.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Friday that Russia had not disclosed information about the existence of the Novichok group of nerve agents, which Britain says were used in the Salisbury attack. States which have signed a convention banning chemical weapons, including Russia, are obliged to declare to the OPCW all the chemical weapons under their control.

“As was stated by the UK authorities, the OPCW offered technical assistance for the UK’s investigation and the OPCW expects some action will be taken soon,” the OPCW said in a statement.

“There is no record of the Novichok group of nerve agents having been declared by a state party to the chemical weapons convention. About such chemicals, there is very little information in open literature.”

Mr Skripal and his daughter remain critically ill in hospital and Nick Bailey, a police officer who fell ill after attending the scene, is described as being in a serious but stable condition.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times