David Cameron dragged feet over Litvinenko inquiry to protect Russia relations – widow

Marina Litvinenko claimed progress on investigation in to spy’s death slowed under Coalition because of attempts to befriend Russia
Tom Whitehead, Security Editor
Telegraph | 23 Jul 2014

David Cameron dragged his feet over a public inquiry in to the death of Alexander Litvinenko to protect relations with Russia, the poisoned dissident’s widow has claimed.

Marina Litvinenko said progress on the investigation in to the 2006 murder slowed after the Coalition came to power because the priority was about whether Russia could be part of the “West club”.

The claims will further fuel suggestions that the Government only finally conceded to a formal inquiry yesterday because relations with President Vladimir Putin have soured in the wake of the downing of Flight MH17.

Officials and Mrs Litvinenko insisted the decision was coincidental to the international outrage over Russia handling of the crisis in Ukraine but the decision came more than five months after a High Court ruling said Mrs May should consider an inquiry.

Mrs May yesterday said a public inquiry will replace the inquest in to Mr Litvinenko’s death, meaning that material can now be examined as to whether Russia was behind the murder.

Last year, when she refused a similar request, she admitted that "international relations" had played a part in the decision.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, who fled to Britain in 2000, was allegedly poisoned by radioactive polonium – 210 at a hotel in London in 2006.

His family and friends have always claimed that the Russian state ordered the killing.

Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects. Both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mrs Litvinenko said: “As it started I felt there was bigger progress in my case but after the election (2010) and the other became leader of Britain my case became a little bit slow.

“It was quite difficult for me to understand why. Everyone tried to help me by saying there was a relationship between Russia and Britain, trade, control of terrorism.

“It might be that the reference was different. The West tried to build Russia like a friend and of course they gave them every time this opportunity to show that Russia is a friend, that Russia is suitable for West club.

“They would say the case would never be closed but that relationship between these two countries was very important.”

Mrs Litvinenko said even if the inquiry found Russia culpable she did not expect the two suspects to ever be extradited while Putin was in office.

But Mr Lugovoi is an MP there and she hoped the inquiry would "send a message to the people of Russia" to "open their eyes to the truth" and their leaders’ "lies".

“Are they are OK that Andrei Lugovoi is a member of parliament. How is the person who is a suspect providing policy to this Russian citizen?” she said.

"After this is solved, there may be a new era in the relationship between Russia and the West."

The Government has long resisted calls for an inquiry and insisted that an inquest was adequate.

Ministers have been under pressure since last year when Sir Robert Owen, who was chairing the inquest, said he could not hold a "fair and fearless" investigation and that a public inquiry would be more appropriate.

The conflict centred on a ruling that material examining if the Russian state had a role in the murder or whether the UK could have prevented it was to be withheld from the hearing – material that could be considered in an inquiry albeit in private.

Sir Robert will now chair the inquiry.

However, although the inquiry will now look at apparent “prima facie evidence” that Russian was involved, it will not examine whether the UK could have done more to prevent the death.

Mrs Litvinenko said: “I am relieved and delighted with this decision. It sends a message to Sasha’s murderers: no matter how strong and powerful you are, truth will win out in the end and you will be held accountable for your crimes.”

Mrs May said in a written ministerial statement: “I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow."




Cold case: A renewed effort to discover the truth about Alexander Litvinenko’s death is both practically and politically motivated
The Independent | 22 July 2014

It is seven years, 34 weeks and four days since the fugitive Russian secret serviceman, Alexander Litvinenko, died a ghastly death in University College Hospital in London, after someone had dosed  him with radioactive polonium, allegedly while he was sipping tea with two fellow Russians in a London hotel.

His widow, Marina, and his friends never doubted that he was murdered because he was considered to have betrayed his former employers at the FSB, successor to the KGB, Russia’s secret service. In their campaign for justice, they had to accept long ago that there was no realistic chance of Litvinenko’s suspected killers being brought to trial. But they have at last, after all these years, been given hope that the British authorities will get to the bottom of this bizarre and horrible event, after the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced today that there is to be a formal inquiry into his death.

The decision is the right one, but the timing is – to put it politely – rather convenient, coming just four days after Flight MH17 was shot down.

The case has been an irritant in Russian-UK relations ever since a post-mortem examination uncovered the sensational cause of Litvinenko’s death. The Crown Prosecution Service has asked for two Russians, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, to be extradited. Both men deny killing Litvinenko and it is unlikely that either has ever lost a minute’s sleep worrying that they might end up in a British courtroom.

Lugovoy reacted to his extradition request in 2007 by contemptuously suggesting that the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, had “no brains”. The case made him a celebrity. In its wake, he was elected to the Duma. When Kovtun learnt that he too was subject to an extradition request, he lost no time spreading the news, as if he were greedy for a share of Lugovoy’s glory.

The inquest into Litvinenko’s death was also a frustrating, uncompleted affair, which has now been suspended. The law did not allow the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, to hear evidence in secret session, which meant that he could not delve into matters that may affect national security. Now that Sir Robert is heading a properly constituted inquiry, under the 2005 Inquiries Act, he will be able to examine British intelligence officers on what they know about who may have had the motive and the means to kill Litvinenko.

Moreover, witnesses will be able to give their evidence free from any fear that they will open themselves to criticism for not protecting the fugitive. Ms May has decided in advance that nobody could have foreseen that Litvinenko might be murdered on British soil, and has told Sir Robert not to stretch his inquiry into passing judgment on whether more should have been done to protect him.

Marina Litvinenko has had to fight long and hard to get to where we are now. That included obtaining a High Court ruling in February that the Home Office was wrong to refuse to open an inquiry while the never-ending inquest still hung in the air.

There may be some legitimate, bureaucratic reason that this welcome announcement of an inquiry should be made exactly as British-Russian relations hit a new nadir – but it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the Government has chosen this as one more way to deliver a message that the West is losing patience with renegade Russians.




Litvinenko: ministers accused of protecting Russia over death
Ministers have been accused of “colluding” with Russia to hide the truth behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko after refusing to hold a public inquiry
Tom Whitehead, and Hannah El-Hawary
Telegraph | 12 Jul 2013

The British Government has rejected a formal request from coroner Sir Robert Owen to replace his inquest with a public inquiry.

Sir Robert fears he cannot properly investigate the death because a ruling on secret evidence means he cannot examine material relating to whether the Russian state was involved.

A public inquiry could look at such material in private but ministers have now refused to hold one.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, a former KGB agent, was poisoned with radioactive polonium – 210 while drinking tea at a central London hotel in 2006.

His widow Marina, who has also called for a public inquiry, said the rejection was a “political decision”, adding: “Were they trying to protect the Russian state? Were they trying to protect national security secrets?"

Alex Goldfarb, a family friend, added: “It’s absolutely transparent that the Russian government is behind this murder.

"The evidence has been seen by the Coroner and the courts.

"There’s prima facie evidence that the Russian government is behind it.

"There’s some sort of collusion behind the scenes with Her Majesty’s Government and the Kremlin to obstruct justice."

Elena Tsirlina, Mrs Litvinenko’s solicitor, said the decision not to hold a public inquiry followed "months of talks between the two governments at the highest level" between the prime ministers of both Russia and Britain.

She said: "What deals have been made behind the scene is difficult to know."

An ex – KGB agent, Mr Litvinenko fled to Britain in 2000. Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects. Both deny any involvement.

Mr Litvinenko’s family believe he was working for MI6 at the time of his death and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

Sir Robert criticised the Government for only making the decision on a public inquiry this morning and warned the start of the formal inquest, originally scheduled for October, would now be pushed further back.

He said the Government’s decision meant it had not given any weight to his concerns over his limitations in conducting a full and fair investigation in to the death.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mrs Litvinenko, told the hearing that the Government had shown an "utter lack of professionalism" with the way it had handled the request.

"The repeated catalogue of broken promises is a sign of something gone awry," Mr Emmerson said.

Mr Emmerson told the hearing that the family would like to see a judicial review into the decision not to hold a public inquiry on the grounds of "irrationality".

Mrs Litvinenko vowed to fight on despite the latest set back.

A Government spokesman said: "We believe that the coroner’s inquest can continue to effectively investigate the circumstance of Mr Litivenko’s death and we will continue to cooperate fully with it.”



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