The Witch Hunt Intensifies: Skripal Plot Becomes More Elaborate as Evidence Becomes Sparser
Spies with false names, a fake bottle of French perfume, and the well-coordinated work of the best minds of Scotland Yard. Theresa May's report in front of the Parliament on the Skripal case resembled a spy fiction movie from the times of the Cold War. The only thing it lacked was evidence. After watching 11,000 hours of surveillance camera footage, the Crown Prosecution Service presented two photos of the two perpetrators who allegedly work for Russian intelligence. The Foreign Ministry has already stated that those people weren't Russian agents, suggesting that the Crown Prosecution Service work with London.
Alexander Khabarov with the details.
Today, this small East London hotel is in the middle of a major controversy connected to the poisoning of the Skripals. The British police are sure that this was the place where the suspects stopped before attempting to murder the ex-colonel. Today, their names and photos were published. Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Bashirov.
According to Scotland Yard's version, which is supported by security footage, these two Russian citizens arrived in Britain by an Aeroflot flight on March 2nd and stayed at this London hotel. From here, they made two trips to Salisbury. The first one was on Saturday, March 3rd. The British police believe that they were casing out the area. And finally, on March 4th, the day when the poisoned Sergey and Yulia Skripal were found in the center of Salisbury. Scotland Yard insists that the toxic agent was sprayed on the door handle of the Skripals' house. The British press is currently discussing the smiles on the alleged criminals' faces. These photos are supposed to have been taken minutes after they had used the toxic agents. Scotland Yard published the photo of a perfume bottle with an atomizer and claims that it's the container they used to carry the poison. The bottle says Nina Ricci, but it's a fake.
The police claim that the suspects flew to Moscow immediately after the poisoning. Scotland Yard assumes they used fake names. The British Prosecutor's Office issued a European arrest warrant for these people, accusing them of committing several crimes.
Sue Hemming, Crown Prosecution Service: «We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of these individuals as the Russian Constitution does not provide for the possibility of extradition of Russian citizens on a judicial request of another country. The Russian authorities made this clear during our work on other cases».
Prime Minister Theresa May made a separate statement in the British Parliament. She said that the Russian Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff was behind the poisoning. She promised to take some secret measures against the organization and threatened Russia with new sanctions.
Theresa May, Prime Minister of Britain: «If these individuals leave Russia at some point, we'll take all necessary the measures in order to detain them, extradite them to Britain, and put them on trial here».
This March, without waiting for the investigation to end, Theresa May blamed Moscow for poisoning the Skripals, which led to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Britain, the USA, and several European states. Russia has repeatedly stated that it had nothing to do with the Salisbury incident and doesn't agree with the indictment.
Maria Zakharova, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson: «We're talking about Russian citizens who flew to Britain from Russia. They had to have a British visa by default. In order to get it, one has to submit a lot of paperwork and documents and, what's more important, scan their fingerprints at the embassy. We requested those fingerprints, which the British side has refused to give, just like all the materials we had requested before».
Recently, it was announced that Britain received the report of the OPCW that confirmed that this June, two British citizens Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, got poisoned by the same toxic agents that had affected the Skripals. London believes that the poisoned Salisbury junkies picked up the perfume bottle that was thrown out by the would-be assassins of the former colonel. But after regaining consciousness, Rowley stated that the bottle was sealed.
Charlie Rowley: «It was a small box with a glass bottle inside. It was sealed wrapped in plastic. In order to open it, I had to remove the wrapping and attach the atomizer to the bottle. Opening the bottle, I spilled a little on my hands. I washed it off with water».
Russian experts claim that the OPCW conclusion doesn't answer the key questions of the story.
Alexander Shulgin, Permanent Representative to the OPCW: «The agent is called Novichok in the report. However, there's no link to the country of origin. The agent is not classified as a toxic agent. The Technical Secretariat also declared its inability to check if the agent used in the Amesbury incident came from the same party as the agent that was found in Salisbury».
Igor Nikulin, bio and chemical weapon expert: “I believe that if the OPCW doesn't check Porton Down, they've conducted no investigation at all. It was all a sham. Because such a high concentration of a substance, about 98%, must've been freshly prepared. And it could only have been freshly-prepared in close vicinity to the crime scene. As in, in Porton Down. There's no other place".
Scotland Yard declared that the traces of the so-called Novichok were discovered in the hotel suite where the suspects had stopped. However, the hotel so far refused to comment on the controversial topic. The police officers guarding the hotel don't let journalists in. By the way, a large police station is basically around the corner. An odd choice of the criminal base of operations. At least the officers don't have to walk a long distance to the hotel.
Alexander Khabarov and Ilya Mordyukov for Vesti, Great Britain.