VILNIUS - Lithuania's name was dropped once again in relation to the murder of former Russian special services officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London on Nov. 23, 2006 from polonium poisoning. The Baltic state was first mentioned in December, when three Lithuanian citizens were reportedly contaminated with the same radioactive isotope - polonium-210 - used to kill Litvinenko.
Last week, the media reported that the suspected assassin of Litvinenko may have used a forged Lithuanian passport.
On Jan. 20, the British newspaper The Times reported that police had identified the man believed to have poisoned Litvinenko. The suspect was captured on camera at Heathrow Airport, where he arrived in the U.K. to allegedly carry out the murder.
The newspaper quoted Oleg Gordievsky, a former KGB agent and friend of Litvinenko who has worked closely with police on the investigation, as saying that the suspected assassin may have entered the U.K. using a fake Lithuanian passport.
"This man is believed to have used a Lithuanian or Slovak passport. However, he did not check into any hotel in London using the name on that passport, and he left the country using another EU passport," The Times quoted Gordievsky as saying.
In an interview published in the Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas on Jan. 22, Gordievsky said that based on sources in the Litvinenko investigation, the assassin arrived in London from Hamburg on Nov. 1, 2006, the day Litvinenko fell ill.
"At immigration controls, the suspect showed a passport originating from one of the European Union's new members 's Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia or Slovenia. But he used the passport only once," Gordievsky told Lietuvos Rytas.
The daily also reported that "well-informed sources" in London said that British investigators had requested information related to the forged passport from their colleagues in the Baltic states. Lithuanian officials, however, have yet to confirm the report.
Mindaugas Petrauskas, head of Lithuania's Europol bureau, said that he didn't know of any such request from Scotland Yard.
Edmundas Jankunas, Lithuania's chief coordinator of Europol and Interpol investigations, also denied receiving a request for the forged passport.
"We get reports on stolen and forged passports quite often, but there was no special request related to Litvinenko's case," Jankunas told The Baltic Times. "I would have remembered it."
Both The Times and Lietuvos Rytas reported that Litvinenko's alleged murderer, whom the British police refuse to identify, might have been employed by the Kremlin.
Lietuvos Rytas noted that this was not the first time Russian special services agents have used Baltic passports.
The daily wrote that Yevgenij Limarev, a Russian living in France, reportedly handed over documents to Italian security expert Mario Scaramela suggesting that Russian agents' were involved in the murder of investigative journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya. Scaramela is known to have met Litvinenko on Nov. 1.
"The assassins employed by Russia's special services, when they go for special assignments in Europe, very often use passports issued by the Baltic countries," Limarev said.
Gordijevski explained that Baltic states passports are ideal for such uses because of the large resident Russian minorities.
"Passports issued in the Baltic countries are very comfortable for Russian agents. Many Russian-speaking people live in those countries, and therefore Russian last names and accents do not trigger suspicion at Western European border controls," Gordievsky said. "The Baltic identity is a valuable good for Moscow's special services."
No one can say exactly how many passports in Lithuania are reported lost or stolen every year, but experts say the number runs into thousands.