Russia, Britain Spar Over Ex-Spy's Death

The Associated Press
Monday, July 23, 2007; 2:50 PM

MOSCOW -- Russian prosecutors responded angrily Monday to London's criticism of Moscow's refusal to turn over the sole suspect in the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, dismissing the British probe as politicized and lacking substance.

Britain had failed to provide convincing evidence in their request for the extradition of former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, said deputy chief prosecutor Alexander Zvyagintsev.

"The investigation materials (provided by the British) contain a large number of contradictions and inaccuracies," Zvyagintsev said at a news conference. "They are insufficient not only to bring charges against Lugovoi but even to open a case."

Britain stood by its case against Lugovoi, one of three Russians who met with Litvinenko in a London hotel Nov. 1, the day he fell ill after ingesting radioactive polonium-210.

"Substantial information has been sent to Russian authorities sufficient for extradition to make it clear that there is a case to answer," British Embassy spokesman Anjoum Noorani told The Associated Press.

The standoff escalated last week after Britain responded to Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoi by announcing the expulsion of four Russian diplomats. Russia countered by announcing that it will expel four British diplomats.

"We want the Russian authorities even at this stage to recognize that it is their responsibility to extradite for trial the Russian citizen who has been identified by prosecuting authorities," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at a news conference Monday.

Russia said Lugovoi could not be extradited because its constitution forbids it, but Britain's ambassador challenged that argument in an interview published Monday. Sir Anthony Brenton said Russia could get around the ban if it wanted to cooperate in the case.

"Russia's constitution, like those of other states, is clearly capable of interpretation in the light of circumstances," he said in an interview with the Interfax news agency and Kommersant newspaper. The ambassador noted specific sections of the constitution that are routinely violated in Russia.

Brenton said Britain was not asking Russia to violate its own constitution, "but to work with us creatively to find a way around this impediment, given the serious and unprecedented nature of this murder."

In an apparent reaction to Brenton's statement, Konstantin Kosachyov, the Kremlin-connected head of the international affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, criticized Britain for its "non-recognition of Russia's constitution."

Relations between Britain and Russia will remain strained "if the hysterics on the verge of international boorishness go on," Kosachyov warned in televised remarks.

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