- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

11:42 a.m.

MOSCOW — Russia has opened a criminal case in the poisoning death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, the prosecutor general’s office said today.

The move will allow suspects to be prosecuted in Russia. Officials previously said that Russia will not allow the extradition of any suspects in the killing of Mr. Litvinenko, who died in London on Nov. 23 and was buried there today.

The prosecutor general’s office also said it had opened a criminal investigation into the attempted killing of Dmitry Kovtun, one of at least two Russian businessmen who met Mr. Litvinenko in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1, hours before the former spy fell fatally ill.

A brief statement from the prosecutor general’s office did not say when the criminal case was opened.

Britain’s Scotland Yard yesterday announced it was treating the death of Mr. Litvinenko as a homicide. Traces of highly radioactive polonium 210 were found in his body.

“Detectives … have reached the stage where it is felt appropriate to treat it as an allegation of murder,” London’s Metropolitan Police said. “It is important to stress that we have reached no conclusions as to the means employed, the motive or the identity of those who might be responsible for Mr. Litvinenko’s death.”

British investigators came to Moscow this week to observe the interrogation by Russian authorities of figures in the case. Interfax news agency reported that British and Russian investigators interrogated Mr. Kovtun on Tuesday and yesterday.

Mr. Kovtun and an associate, Andrei Lugovoi, have told the Russian press they went to London as part of a group of Moscow soccer fans and met briefly with their exiled countryman to discuss business matters. Later, they attended a soccer game between CSKA Moscow and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in northern London.

Both men have told reporters in Moscow that someone is trying to frame them in Mr. Litvinenko’s death.

The Russian prosecutor said, “Litvinenko died as a result of poisoning by a radioactive nuclide and … Kovtun, who met with Litvinenko in London in October 2006, developed an illness also connected with the radioactive nuclide.”

Mr. Kovtun had not previously been reported to have fallen ill. Mr. Lugovoi is undergoing medical tests in a Moscow hospital, according to his attorney.

Mr. Lugovoi was to have been questioned today, but the meeting with investigators was postponed, attorney Andrei Romashov said.

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