- - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ever since Alexander Litvinenko’s death on Nov. 23, 2006, British authorities have wrestled with how to deal with the case without creating an international incident with the Kremlin.

Litvinenko reportedly worked for Britain’s MI6 secret service after he fled Russia, and many in Britain considered his death a political assassination by the Kremlin.

Papers disclosed this week in the Royal Courts of Justice reaffirm that suspicion, confirming that Robert Owen, the coroner in charge of reviewing the case, had concluded that British government documents established “a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”

Before his defection to the United Kingdom, Litvinenko helped the Russian Federation combat organized crime. But his career came to an end in 1999 amid the rise of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who has since ruled the country with an iron hand.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service originally concluded in 2007 that Litvinenko had been assassinated by the former Russian intelligence agents he met with by poisoning his tea with polonium-210, a nuclear isotope that is almost exclusively manufactured in Russia.

Litvinenko’s death cooled relations between the UK and Russia for several years, but in 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron went on a trade mission to Moscow and subsequently announced that Britain’s differences with the Kremlin would have to be “negotiated around.”

Since then, Britain’s determination in pursuing justice for the former agent has faltered. In fact, Litvinenko’s widow and her lawyers suspect the British government is doing everything it can to bury the case it once championed.

In May 2007, when the Crown Prosecution Service originally tried to extradite the key suspect, former FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi, Russia denied the request. The FSB is Russia’s principal security agency and was formerly known as the KGB. British officials commenced an inquest, an investigatory process used to examine a suspicious death without criminal prosecution, and they appointed Mr. Owen as the coroner in charge.

Originally, Mr. Owen was to examine the issues of “accountability,” in terms of who killed Litvinenko, and “preventability,” as to whether British officials were negligent in not protecting him.

But high-ranking British officials have persuaded Mr. Owen that publicly reviewing evidence that implicates the Russians could become a national security risk, and he alternatively has recommended replacing the inquest with a “public inquiry,” a fact-finding process that would allow him to secretly review national security documents.

When British officials rejected his proposal, Litvinenko’s widow Marina filed a “judicial review challenge” with Britain’s High Court to replace the inquest with a public inquiry.

A ruling is expected soon as to whether or not the matter will be handled as an inquest, which will not consider the possibility of Russian involvement, or as a public inquiry, which would consider the Kremlin’s culpability.

If Mrs. Litvinenko loses her judicial review challenge, she could owe the government for legal fees in excess of $65,000.

It is widely known that Russia’s KGB had an extensive history of assassinating enemies with elaborate poisoning schemes, and there is little doubt that the Kremlin considers Litvinenko an enemy of the state.

Before defecting, Litvinenko was prosecuted by Russian authorities, but was acquitted after publicly declaring that the FSB was engaged in state-sponsored terrorism abroad and at home.

His book “Blowing Up Russia,” which outright accuses the Putin 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.

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

His claims have been echoed on the Senate floor by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and corroborated in congressional hearings by Wall Street Journal and Financial Times Moscow correspondent David Satter, who was expelled from Russia last week.

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