Did Russian mafia kill the body-in-a-bag spy? MI6 man found dead in holdall in London, was developing secret technology to track gangsters' laundered cash
By Abul Taher and Robert Verkaik | June 25, 2011
The MI6 agent found dead in a holdall at his London flat was working on secret technology to target Russian criminal gangs who launder stolen money through Britain.
The revelation adds weight to claims that Gareth Williams was killed because of his secret work and raises the possibility that the Russian mafia has targeted British spies.
Mr Williams was found locked inside a large North Face holdall in the bath at his top-floor flat in Pimlico, Central London, on August 23 last year.
It was initially suggested that the 31-year-old died accidentally at the hands of a mystery bondage sex partner he may have met on London’s gay scene.
But now security sources say Williams, who was on secondment to MI6 from the Government’s eavesdropping centre GCHQ, was working on equipment that tracked the flow of money from Russia to Europe.
The technology enabled MI6 agents to follow the money trails from bank accounts in Russia to criminal European gangs via internet and wire transfers, said the source.
‘He was involved in a very sensitive project with the highest security clearance. He was not an agent doing surveillance, but was very much part of the team, working on the technology side, devising stuff like software,’ said the source.
He added: ‘A knock-on effect of this technology would be that a number of criminal groups in Russia would be disrupted.
‘Some of these powerful criminal networks have links with, and employ, former KGB agents who can track down people like Williams.’
Last year, The Mail on Sunday revealed that Mr Williams, a keen cyclist from Anglesey, North Wales, was involved in another ‘secretive’ project, developing devices that can steal data from mobile phones and laptops using wireless technology.
A close friend also revealed that Williams was training to take on a new identity when he died.
Tory MP and security expert Patrick Mercer said last night: ‘The revelation that Gareth Williams was involved in investigating money-laundering throughout Eastern Europe throws new light on to his death.
'I am sure the police would want to investigate these facts as thoroughly as they have done the details of his private life.’
Neither GCHQ nor the Metropolitan police would discuss the new information.
The suggestion that Mr Williams died when a sex game got out of hand was raised when investigators found he enjoyed going to drag cabaret shows, had £15,000 worth of unworn women’s designer clothing in a wardrobe at his Alderney Street home, and had visited bondage websites.
But his family reject claims that their fitness-fanatic son was gay and have been angered at the way the police allowed his private life to dominate their inquiry.
The inquest into Mr Williams’ death – which sparked several outlandish conspiracy theories – will resume in September, when as many as 40 spies who have been questioned by police could give evidence anonymously.
A battery of post-mortem tests have so far failed to determine how he died and detectives say it would have been impossible for him to lock himself inside the bag.
No evidence of drugs, alcohol or poisons has been found but police said anyone zipped inside the bag would have suffocated within 30 minutes.
Coroner Paul Knapman adjourned an inquest in February while Scotland Yard detectives await the results of a fresh round of forensic tests.
Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire admitted the likelihood of tracing a Mediterranean-looking couple seen at Mr Williams’s home weeks before his death is diminishing.
Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Russian mafia gangs have infiltrated all parts of the Russian state and its economy.
They now control vast business and property interests outside Russia which are used to launder their fortunes, often made from state corruption.
The growing threat to the West posed by East European criminal gangs was confirmed last week when a major Ukrainian hacking ring was disrupted.
The 16-strong gang had funnelled £45 million from Western banks into accounts in Cyprus and Latvia, using a computer virus called Conficker.
One British source said: ‘Much of the Russian government at various levels, national and regional, operates like a kleptocracy, with bureaucrats visibly on the take.
‘Obviously we are worried if this money is pouring into London, and then into buying property or other assets such as companies or investments.
‘The fact is that London remains the financial centre of choice for most Russians.’
London and the surrounding area has one of the largest Russian populations of any city outside the former USSR, with up to 400,000 Russians living in the South East.
The capital has been nicknamed Moscow-on-Thames and Londongrad because of its population of wealthy emigrees, including respected tycoons close to strongman premier Vladimir Putin, such as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, as well as some of the Kremlin’s most outspoken enemies, such as the billionaire Boris Berezovsky.