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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs