Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko may have committed suicide, says suspect Andrei Lugovoi
THE alleged killer of Alexander Litvinenko has claimed that the former Russian spy could have committed suicide using radioactive polonium.
The comments came as lawyers for Mr Litvinenko’s widow said they wanted an inquest to examine whether the Russian government was behind the killing and admitted there was only a “vanishingly thin” prospect that the Russian government would agree to the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB bodyguard accused of her husband’s murder.
The killing had “properly been described as an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London” and the inquest should examine whether the it was a “targeted assassination by an agent of a foreign state on the territory of the United Kingdom,” Ben Emmerson QC for Mrs Litvinenko, told a preliminary hearing at St Pancras coroner’s court.
He said that 97 per cent of polonium 210 was produced by a reactor in Russia but the Russian state had “wholly failed in its obligation to launch an independent inquiry.”
“It’s not going to happen in Russia and it never will,” he added. “For the family an inquest that doesn’t examine the question [of state involvement] would be an inquest that had failed to inquire fully into the circumstances of his death.”
He said the case was of “unprecedented international sensitivity” amid allegations that the government has taken the pressure off Russia in order to ease trade relations.
Dr Andrew Reid, the St Pancras coroner, agreed that he would probably widen the scope of the inquest to include such issues and asked the police, MI5 and MI6 to begin an investigation.
Mr Lugovoi, who is now a member of the Russian parliament, has refused to return to Britain to face allegations that he assassinated Mr Litvinenko by poisoning his tea at a London hotel in November 2006. His lawyer said her client wanted the inquest to look at issues of suicide.
“The scope should be wide. It should enable and allow the coroner to investigate the relevant issues so as to dispel the numerous allegations of Mr Lugovoi's involvement,” Jessica Simor told St Pancras Coroner’s Court.
“In particular the inquest should be able to consider all other possibilities, including death by misadventure and suicide.
“We do not accept that there is an indisputable verdict of unlawful killing in this case.”
Hugo Keith QC for Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch and associate of Mr Litvinenko, called the claims “remarkable” and “offensive” and said the coroner should consider “whether it can be right for anybody to use these proceedings to make allegations when they are not prepared to return to face proceedings on a charge of murder.”
Mr Emmerson said the inquest “must dispel the insulting suggestions of suicide and the involvement of the British security services that are being raised by Mr Lugovoi as a smokescreen to hide his guilt."
Outside the courtroom, Mrs Litvinenko said: “I did expect it, he has said the same thing many times, did Sasha [Mr Litvinenko] smuggle something very dangerous out of Russia. 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.
“It is not just about my husband, it is about a terrorist attack in central London using a very dangerous material.”
Asked if she believed Mr Lugovoi was responsible for her husband’s death, she said: “I don’t like to say ‘I believe’ but if he has been named and there is enough evidence against him, his lawyers have to prove it’s not him.”
She said the inquest would be “about polonium, who brought it and who allowed it to be brought.”
Neil Granham QC for the government had argued that the inquest’s remit should remain narrowly into how Mr Litvinenko died to avoid “all manner of wild allegations.”
But Dr Reid said: “It seems to me that police officers ought to conduct preliminary inquiries around the issues canvassed before me” and said he would make a decision at a later date whether he would hold the inquest himself or pass it to a High Court judge.
Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, insisted during a visit to Moscow by Prime Minister David Cameron last month that Mr Lugovoi would never be extradited to Britain.