- Associated Press - Thursday, September 20, 2012

LONDON — An inquest into the death of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko should consider whether Russian authorities were involved, the senior British judge who will oversee the inquest said Thursday.

Litvinenko’s family believes the Kremlin was behind his death from radioactive poisoning in London in November 2006.

Ben Emmerson, an attorney for Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, told a court hearing that it is vital that the inquest investigate “the criminal role of the Russian state.”

Mr. Emmerson said that if official Russian involvement is proved, it would constitute “an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London.”

Judge Robert Owen said the scope of the inquest would be decided at a later hearing, but he indicated he is inclined to agree that Russia’s alleged role should be looked at.

Judge Owen said it is “to be regretted” that no inquest has been held in the nearly six years since the former security service officer died. Judge Owen said he would open his inquest as early in 2013 as possible.

Litvinenko, a critic of the Kremlin, died in London after ingesting polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope.

On his deathbed, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning, and the killing cast a pall over U.K.-Russian relations that still persists.

British prosecutors have accused two Russians, Alexander Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, of killing Litvinenko, but Russia refuses to hand them over. Mr. Lugovoi is now a Russian lawmaker.

In Britain, an inquest is held to determine the facts whenever someone dies unexpectedly, violently or in disputed circumstances. It does not determine criminal liability.

Hugh Davies, the inquest’s counsel, said the judge-led inquiry should be a “full and fearless” examination of all the facts.

He said all interested parties, including attorneys for the Litvinenko family, Mr. Lugovoi and the British government, would be given a police report into Litvinenko’s death before the inquest begins.

One section, however, will be censored — the results of police inquiries into whether Litvinenko was in contact with British intelligence.

Mr. Davies said the judge had seen the full report. The redaction, at the British government’s request, “should not be taken as indicating one way or another” whether Litvinenko had dealings with British spies.

The judge set another pre-inquest hearing for Nov. 2.

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