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by John Helmer, Moscow 

The editor of the Financial Times of London, and four of the Japanese-owned newspaper’s employees have been caught out fabricating a new story about a Russian-made and Russian- named nerve agent allegedly used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Dawn Sturgess and Charles Rowley in England two years ago.

In a report published on July 9, the newspaper claims it has “reviewed” four classified reports from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which were obtained from an Austrian fraudster named Jan Marsalek.  His source for the documents, the newspaper suggests, was a Russian intelligence agency. Austrian press investigations say Marsalek’s source was the Austrian government.

The names of the fakers are Roula Khalaf, the Financial Times editor; Paul Murphy, investigations editor; Dan McCrum, a reporter; Helen Warrell, NATO correspondent; and Max Seddon of the Moscow bureau.  

They claim that Marsalek “touted secret documents about the use of a Russian chemical weapon in the UK, as he bragged of ties to intelligence services to ingratiate himself with London traders. …Documents shown to traders in 2018 and reviewed by the FT included the precise chemical compound for novichok, used in the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in the UK in March of that year.” They cited a British Army chemical warfare commander as source for claiming the documents had not “come from OPCW member states in western Europe or the US”. They implied Marsalek got them from “Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit”. In a related publication the next day,  the reporters identified “Mr Marsalek’s association with individuals or networks linked to Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU.”

Asked to substantiate the OPCW documents they are holding, correct factual mistakes they  made from the papers themselves, and identify their evidence of Marsalek’s alleged GRU connection, Khalaf and the reporters refuse to answer.  

Marsalek, an Austrian national living in Germany, was the chief operating officer of Wirecard, a German financial services company which has collapsed after German and Austrian investigations for false accounting and massive fraud. Marsalek is now a fugitive from European arrest warrants.

The Financial Times (FT) reporters have trailed after the German-language press which exposed Marsalek first. The London reporters now lead in promoting the innuendo that Marsalek was an agent of Russian influence. His house, according to the FT, “stands opposite the Russian consular compound in Munich”. One of the “contacts he made at the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society [is] an organisation backed by the Russian government to promote networking between senior policymakers in the two countries.” In Libya, “the first instance of Russian boots on the ground that year was at industrial facilities in Libya Mr Marsalek has repeatedly claimed to co-own.”

The scoop in the FT’s story was that the OPCW papers Marsalek revealed in London  late in 2018  are authentic;  and they contradict the official British Government narrative that the Skripals, Sturgess and Rowley had been poisoned by GRU agents. The papers also contain  “a detailed account of Russia’s version of events, which argued that the strain of novichok used in the attack had in fact been manufactured at Porton Down, the British military research facility.”

The newspaper version is designed to discredit this;  misrepresent the OPCW’s technical findings;  and cover up the British Government’s falsifications.

Left to right:  Paul Murphy, investigations editor; Dan McCrum, reporter; Helen Warrell, defence and security editor. For details of Khalaf’s background (full name Khalaf Razzouk), read this.

The sources who provided the FT reporters with the OPCW dossier are described anonymously  as two London traders who had been shorting Wirecard’s stock. Marsalek’s motive in handing them a copy of the OPCW papers was to expose the deception of the British government and reinforce Marsalek’s credibility. He “presented himself as an international man of action, using secret documents to forge links with traders in a years-long operation to identify speculators betting against the Wirecard share price.” The newspaper has identified Leo Perry of Ennismore Fund Management as a trader selling Wirecard short.  

In talking to the FT, the traders’ objective was to drive down Wirecard’s share price and increase the profitability of their bet against it. Once the FT had the OPCW documents, however, Khalaf’s problem was that the reports did not substantiate the allegations of the Russian Novichok attacks; in key details the documents contradicted the British Government narrative. At Khalaf’s direction, the reporters decided not to quote from the OPCW reports. Instead, they attempted to discredit them by tying them to Marsalek’s frauds.  According to Khalaf’s group, the OPCW “said this week that it was investigating the matter, but declined further comment.” The German press claims the OPCW has confirmed the documents are genuine.

The FT also approached one of the British Army’s promoters of the Russian attack story, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (right), to cast doubt on what the OPCW documents reveal, and as justification for not quoting from them. “These documents would be restricted to OPCW member states and should not be in the public domain”, de Bretton-Gordon told the newspaper. He was speaking for the British, not the Austrian government.

Allegations of Russian chemical warfare are de Bretton-Gordon’s bread and butter. A former officer of the British Army’s chemical warfare regiment, then an operative in ISIS-controlled Syria, de Bretton-Gordon now earns his living promoting hazmat equipment sales to US and UK police and military forces, as well as advising the BBC and other media on Russian threats. He was a go-between for media, the Army, Defence Ministry, Porton Down, MI6, and Wiltshire police during the Skripal and Sturgess incidents of 2018. His story was told here

The Austrian Die Presse has reported Marsalek’s source of the OPCW documents as the Austrian security services. They had received copies after the Austrian delegation at OPCW distributed them to government departments in Vienna.

The OPCW dossier obtained by the FT comprises more than fifty pages reporting the results of  three visits OPCW inspectors made to Wiltshire to sample for alleged chemical warfare agents. Called technical assistance visits (TAV), they took place between March 19 and 23, 2018, following the Skripal incident; and then on July 15-18 and on August 13, 2018, following the death of Sturgess, officially recorded on July 8.   

The FT miscounted the OPCW visits and misdated the documents, claiming there had been “two deployments of OPCW specialists to Britain in April and July 2018.”

The OPCW has already released two public summaries of its reports, dated April 12 and September 4, 2018. A briefing of OPCW member delegations followed on September 13.  

Source: https://www.opcw.org/

Source: https://www.opcw.org/

In both unclassified versions, the OPCW did not identify a Russian source or a Russian name for what the organization called “a toxic chemical —allegedly a nerve agent”, adding that “the toxic chemical was of high purity.” Instead, the public version of the two reports says: “The name and structure of the identified toxic chemical are contained in the full classified report of the Secretariat, available to all States Parties.” The OPCW also reported that its inspectors had been “briefed on the identity of the toxic chemical identified by the United Kingdom.”  This referred to hearsay, not chemical assays, from the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down.

A leading British chemist specializing in the organophosphate agents says: “in a normal toxicology case, the reporting scientist would have NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy] and GC/MS [gas chromatography, mass spectrometry] data which would lead to a very specific naming of the chemical.” He adds that the naming would have explicitly referred to the OPCW’s schedule of chemical agent formulas and chemical names:

“The above name is the chemical class for Novichok agents” -- British organophosphate chemist. He also refers to the OPCW identification schedules proposed in January 2019 with two alternative formulas:  P-Alkyl (H or ≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl) N-(1-(dialkyl(≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl)amino))alkylidene(H or ≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl) phosphoramidic fluorides and corresponding alkylated or protonated salts e.g., N-(1-(di-n-decylamino)-n-decylidene)-P-decylphosphonamidic fluoride No known CAS Number. O-alkyl (H or ≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl) N-(1-(dialkyl(≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl)amino))alkylidene(H or ≤ C10, incl. cycloalkyl) phosphoramidofluoridates and corresponding alkylated or protonated salts e.g., O-n-decyl N-(1-(di-n-decylamino)-n-decylidene) phosphoramidofluoridate.

The British chemist does not believe the two TAV reports named the chemical agent which had been sampled as either “Novichok” or “Russian made”. He believes the FT report is a misrepresentation of what the OPCW documents say. “How did the journalists know, or how would they know the chemical structure of the compound was Novichok? Their report is a complete stitch-up.”

Other British experts familiar with OPCW technical procedures and reporting protocols say that the classified texts would expose also what the sampling of the Skripals’ blood, post-mortem tissues from Sturgess, and site and “environmental” evidence did not confirm. For example, the experts point out, no detail was reported to prove the chain of custody of the blood samples between the Skripals and the Porton Down laboratory; without that, they say, tampering and planting British-made Novichok are likely.

The full report texts  also reveal the OPCW inspectors were not permitted to test the most obvious evidence of the alleged nerve agent contamination.  “The only sites we know the OPCW visited in April,” according to a British expert, “were the car park of The Mill [pub visited by the Skripals just before the attack] and Porton Down.  Note also that by the time the OPCW arrived in Salisbury, the front door [of the Skripal house at 47 Christie Miller Road] had already been removed and the doorway boarded up.” In other words, the OPCW failed to test the front door-handle where the British Government says the GRU agents sprayed their poison.

Following the Sturgess incident in Amesbury, the expert adds: “the OPCW made two visits,  firstly to collect biological samples [from Sturgess and Rowley],  and then to get an environmental sample; that was the perfume bottle.  Why did they not do it all at the same time?  Supposedly,  the police had found the bottle on July 11; that was several days before the OPCW team arrived. And why was that evidence withheld from the OPCW inspectors until the next month? The OPCW report of the two visits would also reveal there was no testing of the kitchen and bathroom at Rowley’s apartment where Dawn and Charlie were allegedly poisoned.”

According to Khalaf’s group, the OPCW dossier revealed “how samples of the nerve agent were taken from the victims and distributed to secret OPCW laboratories for testing.” In fact, the laboratories were not secret; the full texts confirm that one of them was the Swiss laboratory at Spiez. Evidence obtained by the Russians from Spiez files and reported publicly on April 15, 2018, by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov contradicted the British allegation that the samples were of a Russian Novichok. Read more here.  

The Financial Times reports instead that one of the OPCW documents “included a detailed account of Russia’s version of events, which argued that the strain of novichok used in the attack had in fact been manufactured at Porton Down, the British military research facility.” In fact, the OPCW document identified the chemical formula of the samples, and this formula did not match the formula of the Russian-made chemical. This was evidence that the British allegation was false. In keeping the documents secret, the FT misrepresented the OPCW findings as “Russia’s version of events”, when Khalaf and the reporters knew the version was the OPCW’s.

She and the reporters were emailed the following questions:

They refuse to answer. The newspaper has also published no correction.

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