Russia rejects blame in death of ex-spy Litvinenko

MOSCOW Fri Dec 14, 2012 7:47am EST

Alexander Litvinenko, then an officer of Russia's state security service FSB, attends a news conference in Moscow in this November 17, 1998 file picture. REUTERS/Vasily Djachkov/Files

Alexander Litvinenko, then an officer of Russia's state security service FSB, attends a news conference in Moscow in this November 17, 1998 file picture.

Credit: Reuters/Vasily Djachkov/Files

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia denied on Friday that it was involved in the death of Kremlin critic and former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

A British lawyer had told a preliminary hearing into Litvinenko's poisoning on Thursday that there was evidence the Russian government was involved in his death, which has soured relations between Moscow and London.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said: "We hope that as a result of the (legal process) ... all the baseless allegations about some kind of a Russian involvement in this affair will be dispelled once and for all."

Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship and become a vocal critic of the Kremlin, died in November 2006 after someone slipped polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope, into his cup of tea at a London hotel.

Lukashevich, asked about the lawyer's statement at a weekly briefing, acknowledged that Litvinenko's death was still troubling ties between Russia and Britain. He said the inquest must be conducted "transparently and without prejudice."

British police and prosecutors say there is enough evidence to charge two former KGB agents, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, but Moscow has flatly rejected calls to extradite them.

Hugh Davies, an attorney acting on behalf of the British inquest, said on Thursday that an examination of government material establishes "a prima facie case in the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko".

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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