UK Home Secretary announces public hearing on Litvinenko case

The inquiry will be conducted by a specially appointed judge who will hear any person wishing to testify and provide any relevant information

LONDON/MOSCOW, July 22, 2014 /ITAR-TASS/. After long consultations the British government on Tuesday agreed to hold public hearings on the death of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in London in 2006.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in a written message to the parliament that a public hearing on the Litvinenko case would be held.

The inquiry will be conducted by a specially appointed judge who will hear any person wishing to testify and provide any relevant information.

“Subsequent to today’s announcement that the Home Secretary is establishing an Inquiry … into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, Sir Robert Owen, in his capacity as Assistant Coroner for the Inner North London District of Greater London, will hold a hearing on Thursday, 31 July 2014 to formally suspend the current Inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Following which Sir Robert will open the Inquiry into Mr Litvinenko’s death,” the coroner said in an operational note on Tuesday.

The British government earlier opposed the idea of public hearings saying they might have an adverse impact on relations with Russia.

Secretary May said the government should wait until the end of the inquest before making a decision on whether to hold a public investigation or not. In the early autumn of 2013, Litvinenko’s widow filed a supervisory complaint against this decision and it was granted in February of this year.

Owen said that Russia’s responsibility for his death would not be included in the scope of the inquest. He also ruled that the responsibility of the British State for Litvinenko’s death would not be included in the scope of the inquest either.

Owen said he had come “to the conclusion that Russian State responsibility should also be withdrawn from the scope of the inquest.”

The assistant coroner said he could not consider these two aspects as he was unable to hear the evidence of Litvinenko’s cooperation with British security services, following the court ruling upholding the British government’s request that such evidence should remain classified.

Speaking of whether the British State could have prevented Litvinenko’s death, Owen said, “This is an issue of the highest importance, involving as it does the possible culpability of the British State for the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”

In November 2013, London’s High Court ruled against disclosing some of the materials in the Litvinenko as had been requested by Owen. The High Court issued its ruling after then Foreign Secretary William Hague’s appeal against Owen’s request, in which the former insisted that classified materials remain undisclosed.

On February 7, 2013, Hague, who oversaw the British security services, sent a note to Owen, stating that disclosing secret information in the Litvinenko inquest would be unacceptable and detrimental to British interests.

Having studied the note, Owen on May 17, 2013 supported it in part, but said that the other materials should be made public for the sake of fair and complete inquest.

However the government opposed Owen’s position and succeeded in getting it overruled by the High Court, saying that the documents the assistant coroner had sought to make public were highly sensitive and their disclosure could impair national security.

Interested parties to the process include Maria Litvinenko and her son Anatoly, late entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky (the court intends to look into his possible role in Litvinenko’s death), Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Deputy Andrei Lugovoi (who the British authorities claim to be a suspect in the case and who flatly denies any such charges), Metropolitan police, and the British Foreign Office.

The Inquest said earlier it might look into the involvement of Litvinenko’s late friend Boris Berezovsky and groups connected with Chechens and the Spanish Mafia. The court may also consider different leads such as Litvinenko’s suicide and the infliction of death by negligence.

However, the lawyer of Litvinenko’s wife Marina said that her defendant did not like the assumptions that her husband might have committed suicide or died as a result of some accident. Marina believes these leads have no foundation but she is prepared for a situation where they will be considered in court.

It’s a coroner’s duty to find out if the death of a person has constituent elements of offence. After that, the coroner decided whether the case should be submitted for judicial inquiry.

Litvinenko died of polonium 210 poisoning at a London hospital in November 2006.

British investigators consider Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi to be the main suspect in the case, but he flatly denies all charges. Lugovoi is incriminated in Litvinenko’s death in Britain. The British authorities claim that Lugovoi is responsible for Litvinenko’s death.

Luguvoi has declined to comment. “I will make no comment for the time being,” he told ITAR-TASS.



Alexander Litvinenko: Profile of murdered Russian spy
BBC | 22 July 2014

A public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko has been announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May. But who was he and why did his death become such a cause celebre?

Alexander Litvinenko fell ill after a meeting with former KGB contacts in London in 2006

Before he was poisoned and died in November 2006, few outside Russia had ever heard of Alexander Litvinenko.

A 43-year-old former officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), Mr Litvinenko had become a useful, if not entirely reliable, source for journalists interested in the machinations of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But it has since emerged the Russian spy was being paid by both the British secret service MI6 and the Spanish secret service.

He was allegedly investigating Spanish links to the Russian mafia, and had planned to fly to Spain with the main suspect for his murder, Andrei Lugovoi.

At a central London hotel on 1 November 2006 he took tea with Mr Lugovoi and another Russian contact Dmitri Kovtun.

He fell ill soon afterwards and spent the night vomiting.

Three days later he was admitted to Barnet General Hospital in north London, where his condition gradually became a cause for concern.

On 11 November he was interviewed by the BBC Russian Service and said he was in "very bad shape" after a "serious poisoning".


The Litvinenko case

  • 23 Nov 2006 – Litvinenko dies three weeks after having tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 24 Nov 2006 – His death is attributed to polonium-210
  • 22 May 2007 – Britain’s director of public prosecutions decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko
  • 31 May 2007 – Mr Lugovoi denies any involvement in his death but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 – Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, saying its constitution does not allow it
  • May-June 2013 – Inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable, as it would be able to hear some evidence in secret
  • July 2013 – Ministers rule out public inquiry
  • Jan 2014 – Marina Litvinenko in High Court fight to force a public inquiry
  • 11 Feb 2014 – High Court says the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest line
  • July 2014 – Public inquiry announced by Home Office


During that same interview, Mr Litvinenko, a critic of the Putin regime, said he had been looking into the assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

He said he would hand over documents he had received on 1 November to a Russian newspaper when he recovered.

But he never did. On 17 November he was transferred to University College Hospital in London after his condition worsened.

He died six days later, with his wife Marina, father Walter, and son Anatoli at his bedside.

Born in the city of Voronezh in 1962, Mr Litvinenko joined a military unit of the Soviet Union’s interior ministry in 1980 and reportedly joined the KGB eight years later.

He rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel when the KGB became the FSB in the 1990s.

Mr Putin was his ultimate boss at the FSB but they reportedly fell out.

After leaving the service Mr Litvinenko wrote a book, Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within, in which he claimed FSB agents had been responsible for the bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow and two other cities in 1999.

Police investigating the poisoning sealed off several premises, including this Itsu restaurant, for a period afterwards

The bombings were blamed on Chechen separatists and his book claimed they were used as a pretext for the second Russian invasion of Chechnya.

Mr Litvinenko came to Britain in 2000 and obtained asylum.

After his death, suspicion fell on Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun, the two Russians he had met for tea at the Millennium Hotel.

A post-mortem examination suggested Mr Litvinenko had died after being poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium-210.

A frantic police investigation led to a number of premises being briefly sealed off while forensic scientists tested for traces of the radioactive material.

Locations which tested positive included the Millennium Hotel, the Abracadabra lap-dancing club and the Emirates football stadium, where Mr Lugovoi had watched Arsenal play CSKA Moscow.

It also emerged he had met Italian academic Mario Scaramella at the Itsu sushi restaurant in central London, where he is said to have received documents about the death of Mrs Politkovskaya, a long-term critic of the FSB.

Lugovoi accused

Traces were also found on two planes at Heathrow airport, at the British embassy in Moscow and at a flat in Hamburg, Germany, linked to Mr Kovtun.

Around 700 people had to be tested for radioactive poisoning but none were seriously ill.

After a two-month investigation, Scotland Yard detectives handed over a file to the then director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, who announced in May 2007 that he was recommending Mr Lugovoi be charged with murder.

Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun both denied any responsibility for the death and at a news conference in Moscow Mr Lugovoi repeatedly stressed his innocence and claimed Mr Litvinenko was a British spy who might have been killed by the British security services.

The office of the prosecutor general in Moscow was quick to declare that Mr Lugovoi could not and would not be extradited because the constitution prevented the extradition of Russian citizens.

Andrei Lugovoi has denied any involvement and has accused the British security services

In July 2007, British-Russian tensions turned into an ugly spat with four Russian and four British diplomats expelled from their respective embassies.

The UK broke off links with the Russian security services and, although relations have thawed, David Cameron refused to renew links between MI6 and the FSB when he visited Moscow in 2011.

After pre-inquest reviews in September and December 2012, the date for the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death was set at 1 May 2013.

But it was delayed after the coroner in charge of the case, Sir Robert Owen, decided that the inquest would not be able to hear evidence linked to alleged Russian state involvement.

Sir Robert said that without such material any verdict would be "potentially misleading and unfair" and suggested a public inquiry would be preferable as it would allow some evidence to be heard in secret.

But in July 2013, the British government formally rejected the idea.

The Litvinenko family called for a judicial review of the refusal, saying it showed "utter contempt".

But the government has now set up an inquiry to examine whether the Russian state was behind his death.

The inquiry will hold most of its hearings in public, although potentially sensitive material could "if absolutely necessary" be heard in closed session, a Downing Street spokesman said.



By Mona Charen
National Review Online | July 23, 2014

Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Vladimir Putin of a variety of crimes, was poisoned. It wasn’t one of those quick poisonings such as you get from, say, strychnine. No, he sickened and died over the course of a long month, losing his hair and suffering severe vomiting, diarrhea, organ failure, and then death. Litvinenko died in a London hospital.

It seems that the British, who had declined fully to investigate so as not to offend the Russian government – though they did establish that he died from Polonium-210 poisoning — are reopening the case in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines mass murder.

Marina Litvinenko, the widow, is gratified: ”No matter how strong and powerful you are, truth will out in the end.”

We’ll see. The British government has until now agreed to keep quiet about what it knew so as not to offend Putin. I list some of the other Putin critics in my most recent column. Spoiler alert: Don’t sell life insurance to those who tell the truth about him.


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