Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Litvinenko widow files court papers


Lawyers for the widow of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko have filed papers with the European Court of Human Rights alleging the Russian state's complicity in his poisoning and accusing it of failing to investigate the crime.

Louise Christian, a prominent human rights lawyer, said the papers had been lodged with the Strasbourg-based court and were to give further details at a press conference yesterday to mark the anniversary of the former security agent's death.

Litvinenko suffered an agonizing death in a London hospital on Nov. 23, last year after ingesting radioactive Isotope Polonium-210. Over a three week period, the 43-year-old fitness fanatic's health drastically degenerated, leaving him bald, with yellowing skin and complete organ failure.

If judges agree with the complaint against Moscow, the worst sanction Russia could face is expulsion from the 47-member Council of Europe -- a pan-European human rights bloc to which it is a signatory. No member has been expelled after losing a human rights case in Strasbourg since the organization was founded in 1949.

Anglo-Russian relations returned to a near Cold War low when British authorities issued an extradition request for Moscow-based millionaire Andrei Lugovoi on murder charges.

Russia refused to hand the businessman over, sparking tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. Lugovoi denies responsibility.

Friends of Litvinenko were expected to reread Litvinenko's deathbed statement yesterday in which he directly blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for involvement in the elaborate plot that led to his death. Moscow branded the claim as baseless.

Speaking by phone on Thursday, Litvinenko's father, Walter, repeated the allegations against the Russian leader.

"I'm more than 100 percent sure my son was killed by the president of Russia. Putin himself gave the order and there was a special operation," said Walter Litvinenko, 68.

"I miss him. Sometimes, I even speak to him. It's a great loss," he said.

Litvinenko's wife Marina, his father and friends, including the exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky -- another vocal opponent of Putin -- were to gather yesterday outside the hospital where he died to repeat their demands for justice. They will also pay homage to the dissident at his graveside in north London.

Thousands of people were tested for radiation contamination, hotels and restaurants were forced to close and at least two British Airways planes were grounded as investigators hurried to prevent others from being contaminated. A handful of individuals, including Marina Litvinenko, were found to have above average levels of Polonium in their bodies, but experts said it is unlikely they would suffer any long-term health problems.

British officials are continuing diplomatic negotiations with Russia over Lugovoi's extradition saying they are determined to bring a conviction over a "singularly chilling crime committed against a British citizen that placed thousands of others in danger of radiation contamination."

The arrest warrant for murder issued against Lugovoi in May is still active, said a Foreign Office spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in July after the Kremlin said Russian citizens could not be extradited under the country's constitution. Russia mirrored London's expulsions but the situation has not shown signs of deteriorating further.

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