- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

11:54 a.m.

LONDON — Prosecutors today accused a former KGB agent of murder in the radioactive poisoning of fellow ex-operative Alexander Litvinenko and sought his extradition from Russia. The case is sure to challenge already tense relations between London and Moscow.

Andrei Lugovoi met with Mr. Litvinenko at a London hotel hours before the former agent-turned-Kremlin-critic fell ill with polonium-210 poisoning.

Mr. Lugovoi repeatedly has denied any involvement in interviews with the police and the press, and he reiterated that position today.

“I consider that this decision to be political. I did not kill Litvinenko. I have no relation to his death, and I can only express well-founded distrust for the so-called basis of proof collected by British judicial officials,” Mr. Lugovoi was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti and other agencies.

“Moreover, there has never been either objective or subjective motives for committing what London is charging me with,” Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.

A top deputy to Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett summoned the Russian ambassador to seek Moscow’s cooperation in the case, but the Russian prosecutor-general’s office said it will not hand over Mr. Lugovoi to British authorities.

“In accordance with Russian law, citizens of Russia cannot be turned over to foreign states,” spokeswoman Marina Gridneva told reporters. However, it would be possible for him to be tried in Russia if evidence were handed over to authorities there, she said.

A lawmaker in Russia’s upper house of parliament, Yuri Sharandin, said he doubted that Russian law prevented such extraditions. He said the European convention allows for such extraditions but that it also gives the country receiving the request the right to refuse. Both Russia and Britain are signatories to the convention.

Formal extradition documents are expected to be handed over later this week, a Foreign Office spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of government policy.

Speaking from Tokyo, Mrs. Beckett said she strongly hoped that “Britain and Russia could find a solution that would bring justice.”

Mr. Litvinenko, 43, died Nov. 23 after three agonizing weeks in which his hair fell out, his skin turned yellow and his organs failed after he ingested the rare radioactive isotope. On his deathbed, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his killing. The Russian government denies involvement.

Following the poisoning, investigators unearthed a trail of radiation across London, leading to several buildings being cordoned off and also some British Airways flights being grounded for fear of being contaminated by polonium. Health officials also tested hundreds of people for suspected radiation poisoning.

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