A Russian whistleblower found collapsed outside his home on a luxury Surrey estate is believed with “high confidence” by American intelligence officials to have been assassinated on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin, it was claimed last night.
The Russian president is allegedly named in a top secret report compiled for the US Congress as having sanctioned the murder of Alexander Perepilichnyy, who died in November 2012 after providing evidence to Swiss investigators about a $230m (£150m) tax fraud by corrupt Russian officials.
An investigation by BuzzFeed News claimed that American intelligence officers passed “high-grade” material to their counterparts in MI6 indicating that “Perepilichnyy was assassinated on direct orders from Putin or people close to him”.
An ongoing inquest into the death of the 44-year-old financier heard last week that an investigation by Surrey Police had concluded there was no evidence of third-party involvement in his death. But the senior officer in the case told the court that based on information which has since come to light he would now have treated the death as suspicious.
It emerged two years ago that tests had revealed traces of a chemical which could indicate that Mr Perepilichnyy was poisoned using a rare toxic plant known to be used by Russian and Chinese assassins.
BuzzFeed said it had interviewed American intelligence officers, including two officials who had seen a report produced for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – Washington’s most senior intelligence official – on “the use of political assassinations as a form of statecraft by the Russian Federation”.
The report asserts with “high confidence” that Mr Perepilichnyy died as the result of an assassination ordered by the Kremlin, it is claimed.
The assertions will raise fresh questions about the British investigation into Mr Perepilichnyy’s death and to what extent suspicions in London of Russian involvement were pursued.
American sources, who were also highly critical of the Surrey Police investigation, told BuzzFeed that the British government was anxious not to re-open tensions with Moscow created by the radioactive poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.
A public inquiry into Mr Litvinenko’s murder found last year that it had been “probably” approved by Mr Putin.
The Government last year won a court ruling that a number of documents could be withheld from the ongoing inquest on national security grounds.
A lawyer for the coroner said the Government had taken a “generous approach” to the release of documentation to the inquest following a request for information held by MI5 and MI6 about any known threats to Mr Perepilichnyy’s life. But the court head some “sensitive” information remained secret.