President Vladimir Putin likely approved a Russian intelligence operation to murder ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a judge-led British tribunal into the 2006 killing in London concluded on Thursday.
In a 326-page report, Judge Robert Owen said that he is certain Litvinenko was given tea laced with a fatal dose of the isotope polonium-210 at a London hotel in November 2006.
He said there is a "strong probability" that the FSB, the spy agency that is the successor of the Soviet-era KGB, directed the killing and that the operation was "probably approved" by then-FSB head Nikolai Patrushev as well as by Putin.
“The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr [Nikolai] Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also by President Putin,” Owen said.
The Kremlin, which declined to cooperate in the inquiry, dismissed the inquiry’s findings as a “joke”.
Litvinenko, 43, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia for Britain six years to the day before he was poisoned, died after drinking green tea laced with the rare and very potent radioactive isotope at London’s Millennium Hotel.
From his deathbed, Litvinenko told detectives he believed Putin had directly ordered his killing.
According to Owen’s report, Litvinenko "had repeatedly targeted President Putin" with "highly personal" public criticism, giving the Russian leader and his administration a motive to kill him.
The Kremlin has always denied any involvement and Russia refuses to extradite the two main suspects.
The British government appointed Owen to head a public inquiry into the murder, which marked a post-Cold War low in Anglo-Russian relations. He heard from dozens of witnesses during months of public hearings last year, and also considered secret British intelligence evidence.
Owen’s report said that the poisoning was carried out by former KGB bodyguard-turned-lawmaker Andrei Lugovoy and fellow Russian Dmitry Kovtun. Both men have denied involvement.
"The accusations against me are absurd," Lugovoy told news agency Interfax on Thursday. "The results of the inquiry made public today once again confirm London's anti-Russian stance, tunnel thinking and the unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko's death."
Marina Litvinenko said outside the High Court she was "very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Putin have been proved by an English court". She has called for sanctions against Russia and Putin.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
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Date created : 2016-01-21