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British court OKs investigation into assassination of Russian ex-spy Litvinenko

- - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

At the height of Russia's hosting of the Winter Olympics, Britain's High Court on Tuesday gave a green light for a public investigation of Moscow's presumed role in the 2006 assassination of a former Russian spy in London.

The High Court cited evidence of "Russian responsibility" in the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent who defected to England in 2000. He was fatally poisoned with a nuclear isotope known as polonium-210 after he met with three former Russian agents in London's Mayfair Millennium hotel in 2006.

Supporting Litvinenko's widow's call for an independent public inquiry, the London court said "the focus of attention must plainly be the Russian responsibility issue."

The widow, Marina Litvinenko, has long fought to compel the British government to investigate her husband's murder by opening an inquest. But Britain has been loath to disturb its relations with Russia with what would likely be an embarrassing investigation.

British investigators earlier had determined Russian involvement in the Litvinenko murder, but British officials compelled the coroner examining the case to disregard evidence that could incriminate the Kremlin, citing national security concerns.

Mrs. Litvinenko appealed the government's decision to the High Court, and a three-judge panel ruled unanimously in her favor Tuesday.

"I am delighted with today's decision," Mrs. Litvinenko said in London. "It is a real milestone in my fight to get to the truth behind my husband's murder. We have always said that the reasons that the government gave for preventing a full inquiry into the involvement of the Russian state didn't make sense. Now the High Court has agreed with us.

"I have always had confidence in the British judicial system to do its best to get at the truth and today's ruling confirms that," she said. "This was the murder of a British citizen on the streets of London using radioactive poison ... I am today calling on [Home Secretary] Theresa May to accept the judgment of the High Court and to order a full public inquiry that can expose the responsibility of the Russian State for Sasha's murder."

Mrs. Litvinenko's lawyer, Elena Tsirlina, told The Washington Times that the High Court has "given [Mrs. May] until the end of play on Friday to consider whether to appeal against the judgment ... The proverbial ball is now in Mrs. May's court."

Russia's now-defunct KGB spy agency had an extensive history of assassinating enemies with elaborate poisoning schemes, and there is little doubt that the Kremlin considered Litvinenko an enemy of the state.

Russian authorities prosecuted him before his defection, but he was acquitted after publicly declaring that the FSB was engaged in state-sponsored terrorism abroad and at home.

His book "Blowing Up Russia," which accuses the President Vladimir Putin's regime and FSB of orchestrating the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, is the only book Moscow has banned since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The FSB is Russia's principal security agency and was formerly known as the KGB.

Litvinenko was hailed as a hero to the free world when he defected to Britain in 2000. He suggested that the Putin regime assassinated dissenting journalists and that the Kremlin carried out the apartment bombings to justify the Second Chechen War.