LONDON - Possible links between British intelligence agencies and former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died from poisoning in London in 2006, will be kept secret at the government's request, a lawyer at a preliminary hearing on his death said on Thursday.
Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who had been granted British
citizenship, died days after he was poisoned with polonium-210,
a highly toxic radioactive isotope, which was slipped to him in
a cup of tea at a plush London hotel.
On his death bed he accused Russian spies of ordering his
killing, and British police and prosecutors say there is
evidence to charge two former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoy and
Dmitry Kovtun with his murder.
The two deny the accusations and Russia has refused to
Hugh Davies, the inquest’s lawyer, said the full inquiry
into his death could consider possible motives and examine
“competing and controversial theories”.
Davies disclosed that parts of a British police report which
detailed what contacts Litvinenko had with Britain’s spy
agencies would be kept secret at the government’s request.
“The redaction should not be taken as indication one way or
another whether or not Mr Litvinenko did have such contacts,”
Judge Robert Owen said the inquiry would begin early next
year and could examine if he was murdered on Kremlin orders.
COLD WAR LOW
Under British law, an inquest, a judicial-led inquiry, is
held when a person dies unexpectedly to determine the cause of
death. It cannot apportion criminal or civil blame.
Anglo-Russian relations plunged to a post-Cold War low in
the aftermath of Litvinenko’s death and the subsequent
allegations, with tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.
The relationship is still strained and the inquest could
again inflame tensions.
The Kremlin rejects any allegations of involvement by
President Vladimir Putin or the Russian government in
Litvinenko’s death and accuses Britain of having an anti-Russian
However, Ben Emmerson, the lawyer for Litvinenko’s wife
Marina, told Thursday’s pre-inquest hearing that she wanted the
Russian state’s possible involvement to be thoroughly examined.
“It is Mrs Litvinenko’s firm position that this inquiry
should be capable of investigating and determining whether her
husband’s killing was a targeted assassination of a British
citizen, carried out by agents of a foreign state,” he said.
“This would be an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism
on the streets of London”, Emmerson said.
Britain’s prime suspect Lugovoy, who was later elected to
Russia’s lower house of parliament, will be an “interested
party” at the inquest and thus entitled to see all its reports,
as will Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who became a
fierce Putin critic and was granted asylum in Britain.
Further review hearings will take place on Nov. 2 and Dec.
13-14, when Owen will rule whether the full inquest will be
heard in front of a jury.