Litvinenko lawyer accuses UK of coverup to help Russia ties

Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:13pm EST
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - The lawyer for the family of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006, accused Britain and Russia on Tuesday of colluding to try to shut down an inquiry into his death for the sake of lucrative trade deals.

Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship and had become a vocal critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, died after someone slipped polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope, into his cup of tea at a plush London hotel.

At a pre-inquest hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice, lawyers for Litvinenko's widow said Britain was now trying to keep secret details of his work for its MI6 intelligence service, and material which showed Russia was behind his death.

"It is crucial, absolutely crucial, that the outcome of this hearing is to scotch, once and for all, any possible suggestion that it is because (British Prime Minister) David Cameron is interested in promoting trade with Russia that he is trying to close down the truth about this inquest," said Marina Litvinenko's lawyer, Ben Emmerson.

British police and prosecutors say there is enough evidence to charge two former KGB agents, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, with murder, while Litvinenko put his name to a deathbed statement accusing Putin of ordering his death to silence him, a claim dismissed by the Kremlin as nonsense.

Russia refused to extradite Lugovoy, who denies any involvement in the killing, and ties between Britain and Russia fell to a post-Cold War low in the immediate aftermath.

However, Cameron has sought to improve relations and strengthen business links since he came to power in 2010.

He secured 215 million pounds ($325 million) worth of business deals during a flying 24-hour visit to Russia in September, 2011. Britain has been the fifth-largest investor in the Russian economy since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, according to Russian statistics.   Continued...

Marina Litvinenko, the wife of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006, leaves the High Court in London February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor