Sat, Jan 23, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Litvinenko inquiry a joke: Russia

NAME-CALLING:A Russian identified as a suspect by British police said that the inquiry reached ‘nonsense conclusions’ and that the judge leading it ‘has gone mad’

AFP, LONDON

Moscow on Thursday dismissed as a “joke” a British inquiry’s findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the killing of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko a decade ago in London.

Litvinenko, a prominent Kremlin critic, died of radiation poisoning in 2006 aged 43, three weeks after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium at an upmarket London hotel.

The inquiry said that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, two Russians identified as prime suspects by British police, were likely to have carried out the poisoning on the instructions of the Russian security services, but Lugovoi quickly dismissed the allegations as “nonsense.”

Although British Prime Minister David Cameron called it a “state-sponsored action,” his government did not announce sanctions in response, instead summoning Moscow’s ambassador to London for talks lasting less than an hour.

Russia was sharply dismissive of the conclusions.

“Maybe this is a joke,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. ‘More likely it can be attributed to fine British humor — the fact that an open public inquiry is based on the classified data of special services, unnamed special services.”

Meanwhile, Lugovoi told the BBC that the inquiry had reached “nonsense conclusions” and said the judge leading it “has clearly gone mad.”

“I saw nothing new there,’ he said. “I am very sorry that 10 years on nothing new has been presented, only invention, supposition, rumors.”

At the High Court in London on Thursday, there were cries of “Yes!” as the main findings were read out.

Litvinenko’s wife Marina, dressed in black and accompanied by her 21-year-old son Anatoly, embraced supporters afterward.

She has spent years pushing for a public inquiry and had urged sanctions and a travel ban on Putin.

“I’m very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr Putin of his murder have been proved true in an English court,” she said.

Inquiry’s chairman Judge Robert Owen said he was “sure” Lugovoi and Kovtun placed polonium-210 in a teapot at the Millennium Hotel’s Pine Bar, where they met Litvinenko on Nov. 1, 2006.

“The FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr [Nikolai] Patrushev and also by President Putin,” the report said.

Patrushev was the director of the FSB, the successor organization to the Soviet-era KGB spy agency, at the time of the incident and has been a key security official since 2008.

Polonium-210 is a rare radioactive isotope only available in closed nuclear facilities.

The report, which contained classified evidence redacted from the version made public, said this suggested that Lugovoi and Kovtun “were acting for a state body rather than, say, a criminal organization.”

There was “no evidence” to suggest that either Lugovoi or Kovtun had any personal reason to kill Litvinenko and they were likely to be acting under FSB direction, Owen added.

Shortly after the report was published, London’s Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying they still wanted the pair to be extradited.

Owen said there were “powerful motives” for the killing.

Litvinenko was seen as “having betrayed the FSB” and had regularly targeted Putin with “highly personal public criticism,” including an accusation of pedophilia, he said.

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