Telegraph : Body in the bag spy Gareth Williams and his mystery links to Kazakh oligarch

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Body in the bag spy Gareth Williams and his mystery links to Kazakh oligarch

The spy whose body was found in a locked bag in his London flat was in contact with the son of a Kazakh oligarch before his death.

By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor | December 29, 2012

Police are now examining Gareth Williams’s relationship with Furkat Ibragimov, whose father is a billionaire from Kazakhstan, in the months before the spy’s body was found in an MI6-owned flat.

The disclosure raises fresh questions over the death of Williams and what he was doing in his work for British intelligence and whether he had been encouraged by MI6 to develop a connection with the oligarch’s son.

It is one of a series of key new facts uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph which include how:

* Williams was involved in field activities for the intelligence services and was more than just the computer analyst he had been portrayed as;
* One theory is that Williams may have been followed from secret meetings with undercover MI6 agents;
* MI6 is now fully co-operating with the police inquiry after criticism of its failure to do so initially;
* Police have re-interviewed every one of his friends and acquaintances in the hunt for clues to his bizarre death;
* The mystery couple seen near his flat, who were the subject of the police investigation for months, far from being an assassination squad, were, in fact, trying to find a pizza party in a neighbouring property.

The disclosure of the relationship with Mr Ibragimov, whose father is listed as among the 400 richest people in the world, comes after an exhaustive search by police for answers into how Mr Williams – a GCHQ computer expert on secondment to MI6 – came to die.

His naked body was found locked inside a red North Face bag in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, in August 2010.

An inquest failed to uncover how he had died and left open the possibility that he had been murdered and that his death might have been connected to his intelligence role.

The coroner ruled that the cause of his death was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated” and that she was “satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully”.

A fresh police investigation was ordered in the wake of the inquest, leading to the new leads. Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the spy was murdered.

Crucially, they have secured the full co-operation of MI6. Earlier this year Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered a “voluntary” mass DNA screening of MI6 officers to try to identify genetic material found on the bag in which Mr William’s body was found.

Sir Bernard said he was angered by an “unacceptable” breakdown in communication which saw evidence withheld from his senior investigating officers. When asked what powers he had to ensure MI6 co-operated, he said: “It’s the law.”

According to a source with detailed knowledge of the inquiry, one of the first things that the detectives learned from this new “openness” on the part of the intelligence agencies is that far from being a back room technician, Mr Williams was “directly involved with two MI6 assets in the field”.

Witnesses were asked what they knew of his connection to Mr Ibragimov., though there is no suggestion he played any part in Mr Williams’ death.

It is unclear whether detectives have yet spoken to Furkat Ibragimov or his father Alijan, the Kyrgyzstan-born businessman who is a member of a circle of oligarchs in Kazakhstan known as the “Trio”.

The other two are his business partners, Alexander Mashkevich and Patokh Chodiev, who own a mining, oil and gas, and banking empire in Kazakhstan.

Mr Ibrigamov, 25, is one of his four sons, and is based in London, where he has invested millions in a oil company and most recently a health drink firm called Rebootizer.

How Mr Ibragimov met Gareth Williams and whether he knew he was a spy is unclear.

They had at least one mutual friend, Missa Elizabeth Guthrie, the daughter of an American millionaire.

Miss Guthrie befriended Mr Williams in the year before his death after she shared a flat with Sian Lloyd-Jones, his school friend and a fashion stylist. She is also close to Mr Ibragimov, calling him “Shark”.

The Telegraph has learned that court papers, never made public, described Mr Ibragimov as Miss Guthrie’s friend and business partner and suggest that she asked Mr Williams if he could make a fake a degree certificate for him.

But when Miss Guthrie was asked about the connection between Mr Williams and Mr Ibragimov by the coroner at the inquest she said Mr Williams had “never mentioned” him.

An MI6 officer known only as witness “F”, who gave evidence from behind a screen during the hearing, was asked whether, if Mr Williams had been in contact with anyone from the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, he should have reported this to service’s vetting team. “F” said she could not answer for security reasons.

Mr Ibragimov’s father and his partners are the major shareholders in the London-based Eurasian National Resources Corporation (ENRC), which controls mines in Kazakhstan, Africa, Eastern Europe and Africa. In 2009, ENRC reported profits of more than £900 million.

Mr Ibragimov senior was ranked at 382 on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, with an estimated worth of £1.73 billion, and has homes which include a secluded estate on Lake Zurich in Switzerland.

His son controls an investment portfolio called Glendesk Overseas based in the British Virgin Islands, and with his brothers Davron and Dostan, is also overseeing the construction of the first motor racing circuit in Kazakhstan, where they, and the country’s controversial ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, hope to stage Formula One racing.

Last week Mr Ibragimov, a graduate of the private European Business School in London, was on holiday in Far East and could not be contacted. Miss Guthrie was also unavailable for comment.

The connection to central Asia is only one of the new leads being followed by detectives.

They are also examining closely his MI6 role and his involvement with two field agents. Until now it had been believed that Mr Williams’ work involved only computer analysis.

According to the source, detectives have been exploring the idea that the MI6 agents could have been followed to their meetings with Mr Williams leading to him being identified by foreign agents or terrorists and murdered.

This area was originally ruled off limits by intelligence chiefs when murder squad detectives were called in to examine Mr Williams’ death.

At the time no MI6 officers were interviewed by detectives and only “security cleared” officers attached to police counter terrorism operations were allowed into the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, south London, to examine Mr Williams’ office and its contents.

It is unclear whether Mr Williams’ engagement with field agents involved him going “undercover” himself or if, as seems more likely, he was giving the agents technical help and advice after meeting them at a secure location like an MI6 safe house.

Eavesdropping and computer experts from GCHQ are regularly sent on operations abroad, including with the Army in war zones, while others have played a role in bugging foreign embassies or agents in the UK.

It is known that Mr Williams had been previously sent to the US to work alongside agents from America’s National Security Agency.

Detectives have also been able to finally solve one of the outstanding questions which have bedevilled the inquiry.

In December 2010 detectives issued an “e-fit” of “a man and a woman, both of Mediterranean appearance and aged between 20 and 30 years old, who, they said, were seen entering the communal area late one evening in June or July.

At the time a police spokesman said: “Having gained access to the communal area of the building, they intimated that they had a key to Gareth’s flat, number 4, and were last seen walking towards it. It is believed they said they had been given a key by a 'Pier Paulo’, or something similar.”

The request for assistance led to wild speculation about who the couple were and what there connection was to the dead spy, including that they were part of a Mossad hit squad.

It was almost two years before the police were able to rule the couple out of their enquiries. In fact, it can be revealed, that the pair were guests who got lost on their way to a pizza party thrown by an Italian language student at a flat down the road from where Mr Williams was living.

Pierpaolo Pittari, who gave the party, lived in Alderney Street between February and November 2010 while he was learning English. He worked in a local bar and as an archivist at the Italian consulate before returning home at the end of 2010.

Last week, speaking from his home in Salerno, near the Amalfi Coast, he said: “Some of my guests got lost on the way to my flat and knocked on the wrong door.

"Someone later gave their details to the police. I saw the e-fit at the time but I did not recognise them as my friends. I still can’t see any likeness.

"The picture was so generic, so vague, it was just a man with black hair and a woman with long black hair. It could have been anyone and I thought nothing of it at the time.”

Detectives are also said to be re-examining details of Mr Williams’ lifestyle seeking new witnesses who knew him and who might shed some light on his strange death.

His family and friends dismissed claims that he was involved in cross dressing or had an interest in bondage. But his landlady in Cheltenham told the inquest into his death how she and her husband had found Mr Williams tied to a bed in the flat he rented from them and police found internet searches for bondage sites on his computer.

Forensic officers are painstaking viewing the photographs, videos and a computer generated mock up of his apartment again trying to rule out the idea that the scene was staged by someone with a detailed knowledge of forensic investigation techniques to suggest that Mr Williams was a sexual deviant to detract from other evidence that he was murdered.

However the theory also remains that, however unlikely it seems, Mr Williams may have simply locked himself in the sports bag in his bath in a bizarre sex game and suffocated after becoming trapped inside.

A series of experts attempted to show how this could be done for the benefit of the inquest but, once inside the bag, they were unable to secure the lock to the zip. However, they did not rule out that it could be done.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “This remains an active investigation and officers continue to explore a number of lines of inquiry. Officers retain an open mind in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Williams.”