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Former KGB spy faces Litvinenko murder charge

London Guardian | May 22, 2007 
Ros Taylor and Luke Harding

Andrei Lugovoi, one of the Russian men who met Alexander Litvinenko on the day he fell ill with polonium poisoning, is to be charged with his murder.

The director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, said he had instructed lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service to seek the early extradition of Mr Lugovoi from Moscow to Britain to stand trial "for this extraordinarily grave crime".

"I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning," Sir Ken said this morning. "I have further concluded that a prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest."

The Russian foreign ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office today. Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, said she had told him she expected Moscow's "full cooperation" in Britain's efforts to extradite Mr Lugovoi.
Mr Lugovoi has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of Mr Litvinenko, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin's regime who lived in exile in north London with his family.

This morning Mr Lugovoi's personal assistant said the former KGB agent was in Moscow but was unavailable for comment. "He's here. But he can't answer the telephone now. He's not available," his assistant, Angelina, told the Guardian.

Mr Lugovoi's personal mobile phone was switched off. His business partner Dmitry Kovtun, who also met Mr Litvinenko on the day he fell ill last November, was not available. Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, welcomed the decision to charge Mr Lugovoi.

"I am now very anxious to see that justice is really done and that Mr Lugovoi is extradited and brought to trial in a UK court," she said.

Mrs Litvinenko will meet the Russian ambassador today, at his request.

Mr Litvinenko died in hospital on November 23, having ingested a fatal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 three weeks earlier. On the day he fell ill, Mr Litvinenko had met Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun at the Pine bar of the Millennium hotel in Mayfair, London, before lunching with an Italian academic, Mario Scaramella, at a sushi bar in Piccadilly. Traces of polonium-21o were later found at both locations.

A number of staff at the Millennium hotel were also contaminated with polonium-210. Traces of the substance were found at several offices and hotels Mr Lugovoi visited in the capital, and also on board a British Airways plane in which he travelled. He was treated for suspected radiation poisoning in Russia.

On his return to Moscow, 41-year-old Mr Lugovoi called a press conference to deny any involvement in Mr Litvinenko's murder, citing the fact that his wife and children had also been contaminated with polonium-210. "To think that I would handle the stuff and put them at risk is ludicrous," he said. "Someone is trying to set me up. But I can't understand who. Or why."

He said he gave "exhaustive answers" to Scotland Yard detectives who met him in Moscow late last year.

The Russian constitution protects citizens from forcible extradition, although there have been suggestions that the Kremlin might be prepared to hand over Mr Lugovoi in exchange for Boris Berezovsky, another opponent of the Putin regime who lives in exile in London. However, UK courts have ruled that Mr Berezovsky, an oligarch who fell out with Mr Putin, could not expect a fair trial in Russia.

Russia is unlikely to extradite Mr Lugovoi for trial in Britain, despite pressure from Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the CPS. A spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor's office told the Guardian this morning: "We have been instructed not to comment on the Lugovoi case."

Mr Lugovoi was a KGB platoon commander and bodyguard before moving into private security. He was head of security at a TV company jointly owned by Mr Berezovsky, and set up Pershin, a company specialising in security, soft drinks and wine.

Mr Berezovsky told the BBC in February that Mr Litvinenko had blamed Mr Lugovoi for poisoning him. In a statement he dictated from his deathbed, Mr Litvinenko said Mr Putin might "succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life".

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