Russian faces Litvinenko poisoning charge

113.jpgA Russian former KGB officer should be charged with the murder by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the UK’s director of public prosecutions has recommended.


Sir Ken Macdonald said Andrei Lugovoi should be tried for the “grave crime”.


Mr Litvinenko, 43, an ex-FSB agent and a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in London last November.


Mr Lugovoi denied any involvement and said the charges against him were “politically motivated”; the Kremlin said he would not be extradited.


‘Well-founded distrust’


“I consider that this decision to be political, I did not kill Litvinenko, I have no relation to his death and I can only express well-founded distrust for the so-called basis of proof collected by British judicial officials,” agencies quoted Mr Lugovoi as saying.


A spokesman for the Kremlin said Russia’s constitution did not allow its nationals to be extradited.


Profile of accused


The spokesman added it was waiting for the “British side to actually do something rather than make statements”.


The Russian general prosecution service also said there was “no way” Mr Lugovoi could be extradited because of constitutional constraints.


But the service’s spokesman added that a Russian citizen who had committed a crime in another country “should be prosecuted in Russia with evidence provided by the foreign state”.


Earlier UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she had told the Russian ambassador that she expected “full co-operation” with regards extraditing Mr Lugovoi.


The decision to prosecute was arrived at by the Crown Prosecution Service after consultation with Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, who advises the government on legal issues.


‘Public interest’


Mr Litvinenko, who was granted political asylum in the UK in 2000 after leaving Russia and went on to take British citizenship, died at University College Hospital on 23 November.


He had been exposed to the radioactive isotope polonium-210.


CPS statement on Litvinenko


Sir Ken told a news conference: “I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning.


“I have further concluded that a prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest.


“In those circumstances, I have instructed CPS lawyers to take immediate steps to seek the early extradition of Andrei Lugovoi from Russia to the United Kingdom, so that he may be charged with murder – and be brought swiftly before a court in London to be prosecuted for this extraordinarily grave crime.”


International investigation


Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina said that she welcomed the decision on what was a “big day” for her.


She said: “I am now very anxious to see that justice is really done and that Mr Lugovoi is extradited and brought to trial in a UK court.”


A period of tense relations between Britain and Russia is expected


‘Stand-off’ over spy case


She added that any court case should be held in Britain, and that she believed more than one person was responsible for her husband’s death.


The counter-terrorism command of the Metropolitan Police has been conducting a detailed international investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s death. The police inquiry, during which officers followed a trail of polonium radioactivity at a series of locations visited by Mr Litvinenko in London before he died, eventually took them to Moscow.


His friends, including London-based Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, have accused the Kremlin of ordering his assassination but the Russian government has rejected such claims.


Police passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service in January.


Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman said the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary had met with the Russian ambassador to “underline that they should comply with the extradition request”.


He added the government has “left nobody in any doubt at all as to the seriousness with which we view this case”.


LONDON (Reuters) – British prosecutors accused a former KGB agent on Tuesday of murdering Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium and demanded his extradition, putting London and Moscow on a diplomatic collision course.


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it wanted to bring suspect Andrei Lugovoy before a British court and charge him with the “extraordinarily grave crime” of murdering exiled Russian Litvinenko in London last November.


Britain’s Foreign Office summoned the Russian ambassador and told him in strong terms it expected “full cooperation” over Lugovoy’s case but Russia’s Prosecutor-General office said the constitution prevented it from extraditing Russian citizens.


“No one should be under any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard this case. Murder is murder,” Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said.


Lugovoy denied the accusation and told the state-owned Itar-Tass: “I consider this decision politically motivated.”


The murkiest case of murder and espionage since the Cold War had already strained diplomatic relations with Britain and the extradition move looked certain to aggravate tensions further.


Blair’s spokesman stressed Britain had important political and economic ties with Russia. “This doesn’t in any way obviate the need for the international rule of law to be respected, and we will not in any way shy away from trying to ensure that happens in a case such as this,” he said.


Russian prosecutors said they would give their full attention to any charges against Lugovoy once they had received official documents from Britain, and opened the possibility he could be tried in his homeland.


Ties between Russia and the European Union are frosty on a range of issues from missile defense to human rights. European energy producers rely on huge oil and gas imports from Russia.




Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who had become a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin in exile, met Lugovoy and another Russian businessman, Dmitry Kovtun, at the Pine Bar of London’s Millennium Hotel on November 1 last year.


Within hours, he had fallen severely ill. He suffered an agonizing death over the next three weeks as his organs gradually failed. Images of his emaciated body, hooked up to medical tubes, were published around the world.


In a letter dictated on his deathbed, Litvinenko, who had acquired British citizenship weeks before he was poisoned, accused Putin of his murder.


Moscow dismissed the accusation as ridiculous. It has launched its own investigation into Litvinenko’s death and denies that its security services played any part.


Lugovoy, a former KGB bodyguard who later worked as head of security for tycoon Boris Berezovsky, has previously laughed off reports Britain would seek his extradition. He has denied killing Litvinenko and accused British media of demonizing him.


Ken Macdonald, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said prosecuting him would clearly be in the public interest.


“I have instructed CPS lawyers to take immediate steps to seek the early extradition of Andrei Lugovoy from Russia to the United Kingdom, so that he may be charged with murder – and be brought swiftly before a court in London to be prosecuted for this extraordinarily grave crime,” he said.


A CPS spokeswoman said it would ask the police to obtain an arrest warrant, which would then be sent to Russian authorities.


“The ball is now in the Russians’ court,” she said. “We can’t speculate on what the Russians will do.”


Litvinenko’s widow Marina said: “I am now very anxious to see that justice is really done and that Mr. Lugovoy is extradited and brought to trial in a UK court.”


(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin, David Clarke, Adrian Croft and Kate Kelland in London; James Kilner and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)

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