December 13, 2012 11:42 pm

Litvinenko hearing: Russia accused

Confidential British government material points to evidence “as to the culpability of the Russian state” in the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a pre-inquest review hearing has been told.

Mr Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship, ingested the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210 while having tea with two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, at a hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square in November 2006. Three weeks later he was dead.

An inquest into his death is due to start in London next May at which the Russian Federation has indicated its wish to become an interested party.

Hugh Davies, counsel for the inquest told a hearing on Thursday that based on an examination of documents from the British government, “our assessment is that the government material does establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

However, he added that the same government material does not support the involvement of others such as the Spanish mafia or Chechen groups in the death.

At the hearing, Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina, said that Mr Litvinenko was a registered and paid agent and employee of MI6 and had been for a number of years with a “dedicated handler, whose pseudonym was Martin”.

At the time of his death, Mr Litvinenko was “not only working for the British secret services, but also, at the instigation of MI6, was working as a paid agent for the Spanish security services”, Mr Emmerson said.

He told the hearing that such a relationship “is sufficient to trigger an enhanced duty resting on the British government to ensure his safety when tasking him on dangerous operations”.

Mr Emmerson told the hearing that when he was taken into hospital shortly before he died, Mr Litvinenko was initially reluctant to tell the police officer that he was an MI6 agent or to give the name of his handler and instead gave the police officer the number for Martin and told him to call him.

An investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service has already led to a request for Mr Lugovoi, a former KGB agent, to be extradited from Russia to stand trial in Britain – although Moscow declined on the grounds this would be “unconstitutional”.

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