30 January 2006

Oleg Kalugin - arrest at Heathrow (Georgi Markov)

One of my key defence witnesses, Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB General and former Head of Soviet Counter Intelligence, was arrested at Heathrow on Saturday 30 October 1993 as he arrived from Moscow. It was reported that he was coming to the UK to take part in a BBC Panorama television programme, about the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service, but it was not disclosed he was also coming at that time because he was due to testify on behalf of the defence at my trial.

Kalugin was questioned all the following day by Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Bird, operational head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch. The reason given for this interrogation concerned the murder of dissident Bulgarian playwright Georgi Markov - the so-called umbrella murder in September 1978. Markov had defected to London and taken up the post of journalist at the BBC’s Bulgarian Service, but it was clear that the then Bulgarian leadership wanted him dead. There had been allegations that Oleg Kalugin played a role in planning this murder, but following his police interrogation, Kalugin was later released without charge.

The Markov murder involved a tiny pellet, containing a small amount of lethal ricin poison, which was fired into Mr Markov’s thigh as he stood on Waterloo Bridge. Although it was generally thought the ricin pellet had been fired from the tip of an umbrella, Mr Kalugin said the pellet had actually been shot from a special pen. The Bulgarians later admitted that Markov’s assassination had been ordered by their former leader Todor Zhivkov, and KGB officers admitted in 1991 to having supplied the ricin, which is a highly toxic substance obtained from castor oil seeds.

The apparent reason for Oleg Kalugin’s arrest was an interview he gave to the Mail on Sunday in April 1993, during which he discussed the Markov murder. Kalugin had been present at a meeting in the spring of 1978, between Yuri Andropov (the KGB chief) and Vladimir Kryuchkov (head of intelligence), at which a plan to murder Markov was approved. The police quickly leaked the story of Kalugin’s arrest to the press, and the adverse publicity soon spread over that weekend. I remember hearing news about the arrest on a radio, the evening the story broke, and I had the instant impression that this arrest had been done deliberately to weaken my defence. Consequently, by the Monday morning, my lawyers said it would not be a good idea to bring Oleg Kalugin into the witness box, as there was bound to be concern that his credibility had been damaged by the Heathrow arrest. Therefore, Oleg Kalugin took no part in my trial.

Oleg Kalugin accused the police of arresting him to discredit him, but I cannot imagine that the police would have admitted to that. Clearly, there was no thought that Kalugin had actually been a party to the decision to kill Georgi Markov, as was confirmed by a Foreign Office spokesman, who said “I don't think there was a direct thought that he was responsible”.

If the police were so sure of their case against me, why did they need to eliminate a key defence witness? Kalugin’s evidence would have supported the view held by Mr P (the ex CIA officer), and Kalugin was going to confirm that my case was not a KGB operation. Kalugin’s high ranking position would have undermined Oleg Gordievsky’s opinions (a defector tainted by his association with MI6), and Kalugin’s evidence could have swung the jury towards an acquittal.

In this post I used some material from press reports at the time, including:
“KGB man questioned about umbrella killing / Former KGB man held at Heathrow” (The Times, 1 November 1993 - Louise Hidalgo, and Anatol Lieven in Moscow)

“Former KGB chief meets his match” (Sunday Times, 7 November 1993 - Matthew Campbell, Moscow)