Murder Suspect to Run For Parliament in Russia
Monday, September 17, 2007
MOSCOW, Sept. 16 -- The Russian accused by British authorities of murdering a former KGB agent with a radioactive isotope in London last November said he plans to run for parliament in December on the slate of a radical nationalist party that generally follows the Kremlin's wishes.
Andrei Lugovoy will be No. 2 on the list of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, currently the fourth-largest grouping in parliament, Lugovoy and party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in separate interviews with Russian news media Sunday.
"I have accepted the offer to be on the party's election list," Lugovoy said on state-run Russia Today television. "I was a businessman, but no longer, thanks to the disgusting policy of British prosecutors that led to this political hysteria. With the situation being highly politicized by British opponents, I find myself in the midst of a political wave of interest in me."
Members of parliament in Russia are immune from prosecution.
Russian officials have said that they might be willing to prosecute Lugovoy if the British produce evidence of his guilt, but say that none has been offered. British officials insist that Lugovoy be put on trial in London.
Lugovoy, also a former KGB officer, is accused of killing Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope, when the two met in London on Nov. 1. Britain has not released details of the evidence gathered against Lugovoy, and it is unclear how much material was forwarded to Moscow to press the extradition request.
Litvinenko, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin who fled Moscow in 2000, was a British citizen at the time of his death. His poisoning was slow and agonizing, and Londoners were unnerved when traces of polonium were found at locations across the city.
Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in June after Russia, citing a provision in its constitution that bars handing over its citizens for trial in other countries, refused to extradite Lugovoy. Russia retaliated with the expulsion of four British diplomats, and bilateral relations have deteriorated sharply.
Putin dismissed the British extradition request as an example of "colonial thinking."
The prospect of Lugovoy standing for a party that is widely believed to be in the Kremlin's pocket is likely to further damage relations and will be seen by some in London as an officially sanctioned snub. Zhirinovsky, the party leader, has long courted the reputation of an outrageous personality, but he and his party are generally docile when it comes to the Kremlin.
Zhirinovsky said Lugovoy's place on the party list will be confirmed Monday at a party congress in Moscow.
In Russia, voters in parliamentary elections cast ballots for national parties that put forward lists of candidates, rather than for nominees in individual constituencies. If the Liberal Democratic Party wins more than 7 percent of the vote on Dec. 2, it will be assured representation in the next parliament. And as No. 2 on the party list, Lugovoy, who runs a private security firm, would be guaranteed a seat.
"We have formed the top three to be confirmed by a party congress," Zhirinovsky told the Russian news agency Interfax on Sunday, saying he would be No. 1, Lugovoy would be No. 2 and Zhirinovsky's son, Igor Lebedev, No. 3.
"All of Lugovoy's story with Britain is an attempt to organize provocations against our citizens," Zhirinovsky said.