Sunday 25 February 2018

Russian state 'involved in the murder' of former spy Alexander Litvinenko

David Mercer

THE Russian state was involved in the murder of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, a pre-inquest review heard today.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, died in November 2006 after he was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea at a meeting, allegedly with two Russians - former KGB contacts Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun - at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.

Prosecutors named Lugovoy as the main suspect in the case but Russia has refused to extradite him to the UK for questioning.

Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, said assessments of confidential material submitted by the British Government had "established a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko".

Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko's wife Marina, said the inquest should also consider whether MI6 failed in its duty to protect against a "real and immediate risk to life".

Mr Litvinenko had been hired by MI6 for a number of years and was working with the Spanish secret service investigating the Russian mafia shortly before his death, a pre-inquest review at Camden Town Hall, in London, heard.

He would regularly meet with an MI6 handler, named only as Martin, in central London and was paid by both the British and Spanish secret services into a joint bank account he held with his wife, the hearing was told.

The Russian Federation has now indicated its wish to become an interested party in the inquest, which is to be held on May 1.

Assessments of confidential material submitted by the British Government had shown no evidence to suggest it was involved in the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko or that it failed to take necessary steps to protect him, Mr Davies said.

The evidence also ruled out the involvement of other parties, including friend Boris Berezovsky, Chechen-related groups and the Spanish mafia, he added.

Mr Emmerson said Mr Litvinenko had been asked by MI6 to work with the Spanish secret service and the inquest should consider whether "detailed risk assessments" were carried out.

He had been due to travel to Spain with Mr Lugovoy shortly before his death to provide intelligence in an investigation into the Russian mafia's links to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Emmerson said.

The investigation was looking at links between Russian political parties, organised crime and arms trafficking, he added.

Neil Garnham QC, representing the Home Office, told the hearing he could "neither confirm nor deny" whether Mr Litvinenko was employed by British intelligence services.

The inquest next year will be held before High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, who has been appointed assistant deputy coroner.

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