News / Europe

Britain Does U-turn on ex-KGB Agent Litvinenko Murder Inquiry

FILE - Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy and author of the book "Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within" photographed at his home in London, May 10, 2002.FILE - Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy and author of the book "Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within" photographed at his home in London, May 10, 2002.
FILE - Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy and author of the book "Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within" photographed at his home in London, May 10, 2002.
FILE - Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy and author of the book "Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within" photographed at his home in London, May 10, 2002.

Britain on Tuesday overturned its decision not to hold a public inquiry into the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder from his London deathbed in 2006.

A year ago, the British government rejected a request for an inquiry into the killing of Litvinenko, who died after drinking tea poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in a plush London hotel, leading to accusations it wanted to appease the Kremlin which has always denied any involvement in the death.

The reversal of that decision comes as Prime Minister David Cameron leads calls for hard-hitting sanctions against Russia, including freezing the assets of Putin's close allies, after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 in Ukraine last week.

Cameron's office would not comment on the timing of the announcement but sources told the BBC it was a coincidence, coming on the day before parliament rose for its summer break.

An inquiry may well strain Anglo-Russian relations further, having mirrored diplomatic ties between the two for years.

“It is more than seven years since Litvinenko's death, and I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow,” Britain's interior minister Theresa May.

The inquiry would be chaired by judge Robert Owen, who was the coroner in charge of an inquest into Litvinenko's death, and who has said there was evidence indicating Russian involvement in the murder, Home Secretary May said in a statement.

Owen himself had called for an inquiry saying an inquest - a British legal process held in cases of violent or unnatural deaths - could not get to the truth because he could not consider secret evidence held by the British government.

Post-cold war low

Relations between the countries fell to a post-Cold War low following the death of the 43-year-old Kremlin critic who had been granted British citizenship. He died days after being poisoned with polonium-210.

British police and prosecutors have said there was enough evidence to charge former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun with murder, but Moscow refused to extradite them, and Lugovoy, who denied involvement, was later elected a lawmaker.

After Cameron took power in 2010, he made a concerted effort to improve relations, with an eye on strengthening trade links.

When May rejected calls for an inquiry last year, she admitted she had taken into account the interests of Anglo-Russian relations, but said it had not been the main factor.

However, it led to accusations from Litvinenko's family that the government was covering up what their lawyers described as “state-sponsored nuclear terrorism” to protect the Kremlin.

Litvinenko's widow Marina launched a legal challenge and, in February, London's High Court quashed May's decision and told her to reconsider the issue.

In his formal submission to the High Court as coroner, Owen wrote that the secret evidence did “establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

Hearings ahead of the inquest also heard that Litvinenko had been working for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, for a number of years.

Marina Litvinenko said she was “relieved and delighted”.

“It sends a message to Sasha's (her husband's) murderers: no matter how strong and powerful you are, truth will win out in the end and you will be held accountable for your crimes,” she said in a statement.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Marcus
July 22, 2014 1:47 PM
David Cameron and the British Government thank you for your stance on transparency and upholding justice. Absolutely commendable.

by: Anonymous
July 22, 2014 12:29 PM
Eight years have passed by from that time, and Putin has still been in power.

by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
July 22, 2014 10:00 AM
It is disgusting when the justice was a hostage to political and commercial conjuncture. The British government has become a captive to political winds, for seven years withheld justice and denied facts. But who will believe in the sincerity of the government this time as it turned out to be that Aesop’s boy who cried/did not cry “Wolf”?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs