- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

LONDON — After a Muslim prayer service, ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko was laid to rest yesterday in a rain-swept funeral at London’s Highgate Cemetery attended by a Russian tycoon, a Chechen rebel leader and other exiled Kremlin critics.

In Moscow, Russian prosecutors opened their own investigation into the former KGB agent’s poisoning death, and authorities said a key figure was ill with symptoms related to polonium-210, the highly radioactive substance that killed Mr. Litvinenko.

Self-exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky, Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and about 50 mourners consoled Mr. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, and 12-year-old son, Anatoly, at the funeral. A single white rose was placed on his rain-splattered dark oak casket.

From his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko blamed his fate on Russian President Vladimir Putin — a charge that Kremlin officials have called “nonsense.” Traces of polonium-210 were found in Mr. Litvinenko’s body after his Nov. 23 death.

Scotland Yard on Wednesday said it was investigating his death as a homicide, and traces of radiation have been found at more than a dozen sites in Britain and on jetliners that flew between London and Moscow.

As the investigations proceeded in both London and Moscow, Britain’s Health Protection Agency said seven workers at the Millennium Hotel in London, where Mr. Litvinenko met two Russians on the day he fell ill, have tested positive for “low levels” of polonium.

The opening of a criminal case in Moscow would allow suspects in the Litvinenko case to be prosecuted in Russia. Officials there previously have said that Russia would not allow the extradition of any suspects in the death.

The Russian prosecutor general’s office also said it had opened a criminal investigation into the attempted killing of Dmitry Kovtun, a former agent who met Mr. Litvinenko in the Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1, hours before Mr. Litvinenko became fatally ill. In the latest twist in the case, Russian officials said Mr. Kovtun, has developed an illness connected with polonium-210.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that Mr. Kovtun was in critical condition in a coma, but a lawyer connected to the case denied that.

A scheduled interview with former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, who was with Mr. Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel, was postponed, his lawyer told the Associated Press.

Mr. Kovtun and Mr. Lugovoi have told reporters in Moscow that someone is trying to frame them in Mr. Litvinenko’s death.

Mr. Lugovoi was at one point a bodyguard for former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who also fell sick recently in Ireland with an illness that Russian doctors have been unable to diagnose.

Mr. Lugovoi is now hospitalized in Moscow for tests for potential radiation contamination.

Mr. Litvinenko, who criticized Mr. Putin’s policies in Chechnya, reportedly had converted to Islam before his death. Earlier yesterday, Mr. Zakayev and Mr. Litvinenko’s father, Walter, joined hundreds of Muslims who had gathered at London’s Regent’s Park Mosque for regular daily prayer to attend a memorial service, where the imam recited a funeral prayer.

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