Britain Seeks Extradition of Ex-KGB Agent
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
LONDON, May 22 -- British prosecutors demanded Tuesday that Russia extradite a former KGB agent to stand trial for murder in the sensational radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Moscow, Russian officials immediately responded that they had no intention of turning over Andrei Lugovoy, who met with Litvinenko at central London's Millennium Hotel for tea on Nov. 1, the day he became ill.
The Russian constitution bans the extradition of its citizens, Russian officials said. Analysts in Britain and Russia predicted that Lugovoy would never face justice in Britain. Still, British officials said they intended to pursue a case that left a trail of radiation around London and lingering tension between the British and Russian governments.
In Russia, Lugovoy was quoted by Russian news agencies Tuesday as saying that he had no motive to kill Litvinenko and that the British case against him is "political."
"I'm a victim, not a perpetrator, of a radiation attack," Lugovoy told Russian television. "Within the next week we'll make a statement regarding events in which Litvinenko and myself were involved last year. I think I'll say a few things which will be sensational to a British audience."
British doctors said Litvinenko, 43, a British citizen who himself had worked in Russian intelligence, was poisoned by the radioactive isotope polonium-210-- the cup and teapot he used were later found to be "smoking," according to people close to the investigation. His body began wasting away and the exceptionally fit man faded into a ghostlike figure as his organs shut down. He died Nov. 23.
His death led to the temporary grounding of several airliners on which suspects had flown and triggered fear among hotel guests, waiters, hospital workers and others who had contact with Litvinenko. Hundreds of people, including some in the United States, were tested for radiation poisoning. British officials said that 17 were found to have traces of polonium-210 in their systems but that it posed no significant health threat to them.
"I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoy with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning," said Ken Macdonald, director of public prosecutions. He called Litvinenko's slaying an "extraordinarily grave crime." Following British judicial practice, he gave no details of the evidence.
Putin, who is scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a summit of industrial nations in Germany next month, had no immediate comment on the prosecutors' move.
Lugovoy, 41, was one of two Russians whom British detectives interviewed in Moscow after finding a radioactive trail that appeared to match their movements. German authorities said they found traces of polonium-210 in a Hamburg apartment that the second man, Dmitry Kovtun, visited before flying to London. He accompanied Lugovoy to the meeting with Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel's Pine Bar.
Macdonald did not mention Kovtun on Tuesday. A person close to the police investigation said prosecutors felt they had the strongest evidence to pursue a murder case against Lugovoy.
Litvinenko was a lieutenant colonel in the Federal Security Service, or FSB, a domestic intelligence service and a successor agency of the KGB. In the 1990s, he fell out with his superiors and spent months in jail awaiting trial on charges of abusing his position. He was acquitted and fled in 2000 to London, where he was granted asylum.