Marina Litvinenko said her ex-KGB agent husband met the Russian president in 1998 when he was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) after Mr Litvinenko was suspended for exposing a plan to assassinate the Russian billionaire, Boris Berozovsky.
At the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Ms Litvinenko, 52, said: “Sasha [Alexander] said it was not a productive meeting at all and he didn’t believe there will be any action after. He didn’t believe Putin, as director of FSB, could make any change on his position.
“Sasha didn’t believe his professional skills. He had never been on the ground ... he was a person who did not really understand the job like Sasha did in fighting organised crime. She added: “On his position of deputy mayor of St Petersburg, Sasha believed [Putin] was involved in some criminal conduct.”
She said she did not know details of Mr Putin’s alleged criminal connections but, at that time, St Petersburg was known as “the criminal capital of Russia”.
The inquiry heard the spy feared for his life when he gave a televised press conference later that year, in December 1998, in which he discussed corruption within the FSB and a plan by a senior officer to kill Mr Berozovsky.
“[Sasha] said it was a very extraordinary event and there were two ways now— they will kill him or he will be arrested,” Ms Litvinenko told the inquiry.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, died in hospital nearly three weeks after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 while meeting two Russian men — one a former KGB officer — at a London hotel. His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed in November 2006 on the orders of the Kremlin. Former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as prime suspects, but deny any involvement.