Will issues with the judge's credibility make his report virtually useless?
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Should anyone seriously believe Sir Robert Owen's account of the Litvinenko affair? Whatever it might be? The former high court judge presided as chairman over Britain's Public Inquiry into the high-profile 2006 mysterious death of Alexander Litvinenko, the often-dubbed ex-KGB spy.
Now Owen has reported his findings to Parliament. But before contemplating whatever he's concluded, it is mandatory to consider whether Sir Robert himself should be accorded credibility.
His alarming record, first as coroner and then as chairman of the Public Inquiry, suggests that he was a man on a mission, but perhaps not an honest one. While coroner, Owen said he had a "duty to undertake a full, fair, and fearless inquiry into the circumstances of Mr. Litvinenko's death." In actuality he followed quite a different path.
Just what circumstances did British law require him to investigate? They're not what you might expect. It may come as quite a surprise, but fingering a culprit in the killing is not among them. That wasn't his job. In fact British law explicitly forbids coroners from establishing criminal liability.
Owen should have been ruling on the manner and cause of death. That was his statutory responsibility. The manner of death could refer to something like: natural causes, accidental death, homicide, suicide, or undetermined (if there were no clear indications of the other manners of death). The cause of death tells what specifically killed the person. Examples include cardiac arrest, drowning, overdose, automobile collision, etc. Owen ignored that responsibility. He clearly was a man on a mission. But what was his game?
Owen's rogue behavior got so out of hand that Home Secretary Theresa May actually reprimanded him and told him to focus on his legitimate duties. In my book Litvinenko Murder Case Solved I write about a July 2013 incident:
"Coroner Sir Robert Owen was taken to the woodshed by the British government. At issue is his conduct of the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. A reputed former KGB spy, Litvinenko died suspiciously in London in 2006.
"Owen's rebuke came as a result of the course he had charted for himself in investigating Litvinenko's death. The coroner's statutory responsibility, according to Home Secretary Theresa May, is to 'ascertain who the deceased was, and how, when, and where he came by his death.' But Owen was not focusing on those issues; he was not doing his job.
"Instead, Owen had been conducting a rogue criminal investigation, looking for Russian state involvement in the death. The late Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian oligarch who was hiding out in London, had accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of culpability. He never presented any evidence, however. But Owen was apparently picking up where Berezovsky left off."
It's important to note that when reality-tested, Berezovsky's assertions typically can be proved absolutely false. They are sheer fabrications. My 2011 book titled The Phony Litvinenko Murder factually debunks the many unsupported allegations that had become the mainstream news story.
Continuing from Litvinenko Murder Case Solved:
"The Home Secretary reined in Owen, pointing out that he had overstepped his bounds. She stated that the law does not allow a coroner to determine criminal liability.
"Earlier news reports uncovered Owen's illicit criminal investigation. In response he concocted a scheme of deception. He wanted to transfer his coronial work to a different venue, one without the restrictions placed on coroners regarding openness and criminality. It was a clever strategy.
"But when Owen wrote to the government requesting the transfer, he misrepresented the circumstances of the case. He said, 'It is a highly exceptional situation when the victim of what appears to have been a murder is interviewed by police before he dies, and makes a public statement in which he names those whom he suspects of being responsible for his death…э
"Нowever, the public record shows that Litvinenko made no such statement to the police. It is true that there was a written public statement accusing Putin that was attributed to Litvinenko. It was released after his death. But that document has been shown to be a fraud. The statement was a hoax, and the hoaxer has publically confessed."
Some wonder if he was really murdered. It's interesting that while media reports have persistently called Litvinenko's death a murder, the coroner never ruled it to be a homicide. Owen didn't do his job. He failed in a primary responsibility. What was his game?
Owen's scheme to transfer his work to a different venue was in fact a request to move the Litvinenko matter from coroner's court to a "Public Inquiry." Common sense says that this term means an inquiry that's out in the open. But in this case, the words are a tricky technical term. It's actually a misnomer. According to British law, a "Public" Inquiry really can be conducted behind closed doors in secrecy. There never was any intention that the Public Inquiry be completely transparent. The media reports about this give entirely the wrong impression.
Why did Owen so intently want to continue his witch hunt for Russian culpability? Was he somehow in cahoots with the Berezovsky crowd? I don't know. Did he have a personal reason to prolong the case? What might that be?
Until Owen was put on the Litvinenko case, he was facing mandatory retirement from the bench in September 2014. Extending his activities in the Litvinenko Inquiry kept him on the government dole beyond that. Now, it looks like he might have been milking the Litvinenko case for all it's worth to his own personal benefit.
Perhaps the Home Secretary saw through Owen's ruse. She turned down his request for the Public Inquiry, asserting that his legal responsibilities could be fulfilled within the coronial process.
With that unequivocal news, Owen announced that he would comply. On December 18, 2014 he issued a formal ruling that removed the Russian culpability issue from the scope of his inquest. At that point the case seemingly went dormant. And at that very time there still was no determination of the manner and cause of death.
How did things get from there to the actual convening of an official Public Inquiry, the one just reported upon? In a word, it was politics. Politics at the highest level.
Prime Minister David Cameron's personal mission in 2014 to hit Russia hard over the MH17 disaster triggered a reopening of the dormant Litvinenko death case. This came as part of the sanctions frenzy over Ukraine. The so-called Public Inquiry, although earlier ruled out by the Home Secretary, was now propelled to the forefront. Owen was finally allowed to continue his dedicated witch hunt adventure unfettered.
Given all the foregoing underhandedness, disrespect for the law, and political interference, how can any outcome offered by Owen be considered legitimate in any reasonable sense?
What a disgraceful performance on Owen's part. I think he just can't be trusted.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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