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Filmmaker honors ex-spy's dying plea

June 16, 2008|Susan King

As he lay dying in London's University College Hospital in November 2006, exiled former KGB and FSB agent Alexander "Sasha" Litvinenko was being filmed by documentarian Andrei Nekrasov. He told Nekrasov: "If anything should happen to me, I beg you to show this tape to the whole world."

Nekrasov kept the promise he made to his friend, who died three weeks after falling ill from what was later discovered to be radiation poisoning from a lethal dose of Polonium-210 in his tea, believed to have been slipped in during a meeting with two of his former FSB (Russia's modern-day secret police) colleagues. Nekrasov's startling documentary, “Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File,” opens Friday.

"When Alexander was alive, he wasn't really famous," says Nekrasov. "He was kind of known in Russia, as you see in the film. He went on TV 10 years ago and accused his bosses of, basically, corruption and worse -- contracting murders and asking him specifically to kill this tycoon."

Initially, Litvinenko was just to be a part of a documentary Nekrasov was working on about Russians who had rebelled against Russian President Vladimir Putin's "regime." But when he took ill suddenly, the focus of the film changed.

"It was shocking," says Nekrasov. "I felt for him in those moments. I felt like a brother was dying and for what? He was really young and healthy and really loved life. It looked like a terrible disease, like cancer, but really violent, a fast-forward cancer. It was really kind of physically shocking. He was changing [in appearance] every few hours. Knowing that it was not a natural disease but a vengeance for his politics -- that really made it worse. Somebody killed for his beliefs is something you read in books."

A key suspect in the murder, Andrei Lugovoy, was never prosecuted and remains in Russia. "He is a popular politician," says Nekrasov. "It's crazy."

-- Susan King

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