News / Europe

'Russian Involvement' Is Central to UK Inquiry Into Ex-KGB Agent's Death

Alexander Litvinenko (2002 photo)
Alexander Litvinenko (2002 photo)
Reuters

Evidence that shows Russia was behind the 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London will mostly be given in secret, the chairman of a public inquiry into his death said on Thursday.

Kremlin critic Litvinenko, 43, died after being poisoned with a radioactive isotope in November 2006, a crime which from his death bed he blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Formally opening an inquiry into the killing at London's High Court, senior judge Robert Owen repeated his assertion that the British government held material which indicated the Russian state was responsible.

“The issues to which his death gives rise are of the utmost gravity and have attracted worldwide interest and concern,” said Owen.

It had been described to him as a “state-sponsored assassination” and “a miniature nuclear attack on the streets of London,” he said.

Anglo-Russian ties fell to a post-Cold War low in the wake of Litvinenko's death, particularly after British prosecutors said there was enough evidence to charge former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun with murder.

They were with Litvinenko at a London hotel when British police believe he was given tea poisoned with polonium-210. Moscow has refused to extradite them, and Lugovoy, who denied involvement, was later elected a lawmaker.

Relations between the countries improved after David Cameron became British prime minister in 2010, and his government had initially refused a request to hold a public inquiry.

The family of Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship, said the refusal had been made to protect business interests, and successfully challenged the decision in court, with judges ordering the government to reconsider,

Last week, with Anglo-Russian relations again at a low ebb after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 in a pro-Russian rebel-held part of Ukraine, Home Secretary [interior minister] Theresa May said there would be an inquiry after all.

Owen had originally been appointed as coroner to oversee an inquest into the death and suspended this on Thursday to allow the inquiry to begin instead.

Focus on Russian involvement

He said the allegations that the Russian state was culpable for the killing would be central to his investigation.

“HMG (government) material taken in isolation establishes a prima facie case that the Russian state was responsible for Mr Litvinenko's death - a view that I myself have subsequently endorsed,” Owen said.

He said the material was of “such sensitivity” that most could not be heard in public and said some of his findings would remain secret. But he promised he would make public his conclusions about Russian involvement.

However, the inquiry would not examine whether British spies carried out the killing or could have prevented it, he said, explaining there was no evidence to suggest the first claim or to indicate Litvinenko's life had been at serious risk.

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

A hearing to establish the format and other details of the inquiry will be held on Sept. 5, and Owen said it would begin in earnest in January next year.

“Finally we will know all about this crime,” said Litvinenko's widow Marina, who has fought a long battle to learn the truth behind the death.

 

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid