Litvinenko Investigation Russian Is Accused of Poisoning Ex-KGB. Agent
The British authorities accused a Russian businessman, Andrei K. Lugovoi, of murdering the agent six months ago.
Britain has accused Andrei Lugovoi of murder in the poisoning death of former Soviet agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Mr. Litvinenkos death was one of the most stirring dramas since the cold war, with the police tracing a trail of nuclear contamination from London to Moscow. Mr. Lugovoi is the first to be formally accused.
The precise nature of the evidence against him was not made clear on Tuesday, though investigators had linked him and an associate, Dmitri V. Kovtun, to nuclear traces stretching from luxury hotels and offices in London to Hamburg, Germany, and to British Airways planes that had flown to Moscow. Each man has denied killing Mr. Litvinenko.
Britains Crown Prosecution Service said it would seek the extradition of Mr. Lugovoi, a former K.G.B. bodyguard who now owns security and other businesses, from Moscow. But Russias prosecutor general ruled out extradition, suggesting instead that Britain hand over the files for a trial in Russia. The Russian prosecutor generals office also is investigating Mr. Litvinenkos death.
Mr. Lugovoi, who proclaimed his innocence on Tuesday, had known Mr. Litvinenko for several years. Both had worked in the 1990s in Moscow for Boris A. Berezovsky, now the self-exiled Russian tycoon living in London who was once among Russias richest and most powerful men.
Mr. Litvinenko, 43, died on Nov. 23, 2006, after weeks of debilitating illness. He became ill on Nov. 1, the day he met Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Kovtun at the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, across from the American Embassy, in Grosvenor Square. At the meeting, Mr. Litvinenko drank tea, which his associates have since asserted was laced with polonium.
The murder accusation did not mention Mr. Kovtun or a possible motive. From his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko accused President Vladimir V. Putin of responsibility for poisoning him -- a charge the Kremlin has dismissed as ridiculous.
The British accusation is likely to further strain relations between Britain and Russia, already damaged by Britains refusal to extradite Mr. Berezovsky, who had been Mr. Litvinenkos main employer until mid-2006. Mr. Berezovsky offered no comment on Tuesday.
Sir Ken Macdonald, Britains director of public prosecutions and the leader of the Crown Prosecution Service, an official body that weighs police evidence before prosecutions, said the service had carefully considered a police file presented to it in late January after two months of investigations led by Peter Clarke, the chief of Britains counterterrorism police.
I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning, Sir Ken said in a statement. I have further concluded that a prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest.
The statement called the killing an extraordinarily grave crime. Some of Mr. Litvinenkos associates expressed surprise that only one person had been accused.
I am almost in a state of disbelief that only Lugovoi was charged and not a group of at least three people, said Yuri Felshtinsky, an associate of Mr. Berezovsky and the author with Mr. Litvinenko of a 2002 book, Blowing Up Russia.
Only the Russian secret service could have executed this coup with nuclear material on British soil, he said in remarks distributed by his publisher. The hand of those around Vladimir Putin was clearly visible in the murder.
Some other recent studies have speculated that Mr. Litvinenko was killed by vengeful former secret service associates for his perceived betrayal of his comrades in the 1990s when he sought to expose alleged corruption in the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the K.G.B. Mr. Litvinenko had cast himself as an anti-Putin crusader and whistle-blower.
Mr. Lugovoi did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. His lawyer, Andrei M. Romashov, said Mr. Lugovoi had not been notified of any charges.
Later, in remarks reported by Russian news agencies, he denied any role in Mr. Litvinenkos death. I believe the decision is a political one, he said, according to the official Russian Information Agency. He expressed my distrust of evidence collected by British investigations and suggested he would soon make statements that would be a sensation for public opinion in Britain.
In an interview with The New York Times in March, Mr. Lugovoi said he considered himself a victim of the poisoning that had killed Mr. Litvinenko. Intentionally or accidentally, we had been assaulted, he said.
Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Litvinenko had been recruited in different sections of the Soviet-era K.G.B. Mr. Litvinenko reached the rank of lieutenant colonel as an interrogator in Chechnya and an investigator of organized crime in Moscow for the F.S.B.
Mr. Kovtun, Mr. Lugovois associate, also declined to comment when reached by telephone. Although he faces no charges, he complained that the British had not notified him or Mr. Lugovoi of any resolution in the case. Its not clear to us, he said.
British police officials and prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymity under civil service rules, said the evidence had been insufficient to charge Mr. Kovtun.
From the start of the investigation, Russia has said its laws forbid any extradition of Russian citizens. However, the Crown Prosecutions statement on Tuesday noted Russias signature to a 1957 convention on extraditions and an agreement pledging to cooperate in the sphere of extradition signed by prosecutors of both countries in 2006, only days before Mr. Litvinenko died.
Marina Y. Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor generals office, said that a citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state can be prosecuted with evidence provided by the foreign state, but only on the territory of Russia.
But Genri M. Reznik, one of Russias leading defense lawyers, said he could not recall such a case.
Referring to the eventual trial of the man accused of killing her husband, Marina Litvinenko insisted that she was absolutely sure that it has to be here in London, in England. In a statement, Mrs. Litvinenko said, It is important to me that my husband didnt die in vain.
She met with the Russian ambassador in London, under an arrangement made before the announcement on Tuesday. The purpose of that encounter was not clear.
Broadening the legal campaign, Mrs. Litvinenkos lawyer, Louise Christian, said she had complained to the European Court of Human Rights about Russias handling of inquiries into Mr. Litvinenkos death.
British officials showed unusual alacrity in demanding that Russia comply with the extradition request. The Russian ambassador, Yury V. Fedotov, was called to the Foreign Office. This was a serious crime, the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said Tuesday in Japan. We are seeking, and we expect, full cooperation from the Russian authorities in bringing the perpetrator to face British justice.
Alan Cowell reported from London, and Steven Lee Myers from Moscow.