Suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko given final chance to give evidence to inquiry into the spy's death
A suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko has been given a final chance to give evidence to the inquiry into the spy's death after he was accused of "manipulating" the probe.
Dmitri Kovtun was given a deadline of 9am tomorrow by judge Sir Robert Owen to provide testimony by video link from Moscow.
He had asked to give evidence but gave the inquiry a string of reasons why he was unable to in the days before he was due to appear today.
Doubts first emerged over whether Kovtun would give evidence on Friday, and he was told he must inform the probe of his position by midday today
After hearing from Robin Tam QC, counsel to the inquiry, that Kovtun was still not in a position to appear, Sir Robert said: "The factors you have outlined, in particular the timing of the events regarding giving evidence and the content of the very, very recent communications, give rise to the gravest suspicion that an attempt is being made to manipulate the situation.
"It seems to me he must tell me whether he intends to give evidence or not, and the last opportunity to do so, will be at 9am tomorrow."
Ben Emmerson QC, who represents the Litvinenko family, gave a damning assessment of the situation.
He said: "It appears that these proceedings are being manipulated in a co-ordinated way between Mr Kovtun, the murderer, and the Russian state who sent him to commit the murder."
Addressing the chairman, he added: "We endorse your view that there should be no place for Mr Kovtun and his masters in the Kremlin to hide behind procedural limitations as an excuse."