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Litvinenko, revisited

Dual Images of Alexander Litvinenko, in Hospital Bed After Poisoning, and Earlier Before Poisoning
adapted from image
A new inquest has begun in London into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent and a British citizen, who died five years ago after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210. The inquest looks likely to produce fresh evidence in a case that has been souring Russia- UK relations since 2006. This is the second time coroners and British officials launched an inquest to find possible suspects in the case.

A British court named another former FSB official, Andrei Lugovoi, as the chief suspect in 2007, requesting an extradition that Moscow has repeatedly refused.

For four years, British officials remained quiet on the case, but on October 2, The Sunday Times reported that Lord Ken Macdonald, former head of Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, said he suspected Russia of carrying out a "state-directed execution."

Andrei Lugovoi, who is currently a Duma deputy for the nationalist LDPR party, has refused to come to the UK but said he would agree to give an explanation via a video link up, if necessary, since he has been calling for an additional inquest for many years, he told The Moscow News Monday.

"I have always said that we can't rule out an accident [in handling polonium]. I've proposed several versions based only on who could have benefited [from the murder], there could have been careless handling of polonium in case he had it," Lugovoi said. "If it was in fact a murder it could have been convenient for [exiled tycoon Boris] Berezovsky, the Russian mafia, or British intelligence to discredit Russia."

Media have cited Lugovoi as suggesting Litvinenko may have committed suicide, but Lugovoi denied ever having made such allegations.

"This inquest will not raise questions about who the suspects are," Lugovoi, who is currently the only suspect named in the case, told The Moscow News. "It is to determine what caused his death." He added that he has been calling for a coroner's hearing for years but that it was a surprise for him when he learned about it two weeks ago.

"We've been suggesting a video link-up, it came from us," he said. "If they ask questions, I am ready to give an explanation."

Fresh evidence

Fresh evidence may yet emerge in the new inquest, with ex-wife Marina Litvinenko telling the media that Alexander Litvinenko was in fact involved with British intelligence ­ a charge made by Lugovoi soon after the death.

"He worked as a consultant for them over a year in an operation to combat Russian organized crime in Europe," Marina Litvinenko was quoted as saying by the The Mail on Sunday.

Lugovoi said he was not surprised, since he made similar allegations after Litvinenko's death.

"They are being clever, because they knew in advance this would surface during the inquest," Lugovoi told The Moscow News. But he added that Litvinenko's alleged consultations on organized crime were "nonsense."

"This is an attempt to whitewash him. They are lying. But this strengthens my position because I said [he worked for British intelligence] and that he had received money from them," Lugovoi said.

Marina Litvinenko has also been pressing for another inquest for years to help solve her husband's murder.

"I can't say it didn't make me feel emotional but I am glad we will have a full inquest to see all the evidence, see the truth," Marina Litvinenko said outside the courtroom Friday, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Marina Litvinenko's lawyer, Ben Emmerson, said it was in the public interest that the question of whether Russia was involved into the murder will be answered after the inquest, The New York Times reported.

Emmerson's law firm said that he was instructed not to give any comments to the press, a person who answered the phone told The Moscow News.

Five years on

Experts believe the second inquest could affect relations between Moscow and London.

The new developments come just a month after British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Moscow, the first official visit by a PM in six years.

"A British citizen was poisoned by a radioactive substance which can be called an act of nuclear terrorism from the point of view of law and common sense," Yury Fyodorov, a security analyst at Chatham House, told The Moscow News.

"For the British government and public opinion it's unacceptable to leave this problem unsolved. This is all the interest that the British government and British court system have in this case."

Fedorov said that this inquest will not ease tensions in relations between Russia and the UK.

"The reaction of the Russian authorities, who have a very unhealthy attitude towards this type of investigation, provokes ideas that some Russian citizens or even officials could have been involved in this murder. There is no direct evidence of that, but there is circumstantial evidence that makes everyone ask questions," Fyodorov said.

Russia seeks cooperation

Russian authorities have many times said that there is no evidence in that could suggest that Lugovoi played any role in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Lugovoi, whom Litvinenko met for lunch in November 2006, was the last Russian he had seen before falling ill.

This time, however, the Russian Embassy in London said that they would like to cooperate as much as possible, requesting that the inquest to be made open to the public.

"Dr. Andrew Scott Reid, following Embassy's request, agreed to a representative of our Consular section to be present at the hearings. We welcome the fact that the hearings were open, including to the media, and hope it will continue to be the case," the embassy said in a statement Friday.

But according to Fyodorov, Russia's point of view overall has not changed and will likely remain the same.

"Russian officials want to forget about this case and make everyone else forget it too ­ as there is no direct evidence," he said.

"But if there was no evidence, there would have been no trial and investigation in the first place," Fyodorov added.

Russia, Assassinations - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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