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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kremlin Seeks to Stall the Litvinenko Investigation in Britain

The Times of London reports:

Kremlin 'stalling tactic' hits poison case

The Kremlin has unleashed a bureaucratic blitz on Scotland Yard as part of Russia’s investigation into the murder of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko. Prosecutors in Moscow have asked British detectives to interview more than 100 people and carry out dozens of searches in a 110-page request for assistance. Alexander Zvyagintsev, the Russian deputy prosecutorgeneral, said that he had asked the Home Office for its full co-operation.

The scale of the Russian request has prompted suspicions that Moscow is seeking to stall the investigation by overwhelming Scotland Yard with largely irrelevant demands.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office in Moscow did not open an inquiry into Litvinenko’s death until December 7, two days after a team of British detectives arrived in Russia to interview potential witnesses.

Mr Zvyagintsev insisted that Moscow had “a lot of questions about this case”. He pointed to the assistance given to the British detectives as justification for expecting London to co-operate. He indicated that Russia was preparing to send its own team to London to join the inquiry into the death of the former FSB officer, who was an outspoken critic of President Putin.

“We asked [the UK authorities] to question more than 100 witnesses and conduct dozens of searches. In our request, we formulated questions that we would like to have answered,” he told the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

“We want these investigative efforts to proceed in the presence of our detectives. We hope that our UK colleagues will respond to our request as promptly as we did recently.”

The Kremlin also wants Russian prosecutors to interview other prominent critics of Mr Putin living in London. The billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev are top of the list.

Both men were friends of Litvinenko, who fled Russia after accusing the security service, then led by Mr Putin, of ordering him to assassinate Mr Berezovsky.

Mr Zvyagintsev said that the British police had received every assistance during their visit to Moscow, adding: “We did even more than they had asked us to do.” Scotland Yard takes a rather different view. Detectives were barred from questioning witnesses directly and were allowed only to listen as Russian prosecutors questioned them.

The British team took answers from two key Russian witnesses, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun. Both met Litvinenko at a London hotel on November 1, the day that he was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

Mr Lugovoy, a former KGB security guard, and Mr Kovtun, his business partner, have denied any involvement in the killing. They were interviewed in hospital, where they were said to be suffering the effects of radiation contamination.

German police are investigating Mr Kovtun after traces of polonium-210 were found in places he visited in Hamburg, shortly before travelling to London. Russian prosecutors describe him as a victim of attempted murder and say they are investigating his case alongside that of Litvinenko.

Mr Kovtun has not been seen in public for six weeks, but Mr Lugovoy left hospital last week after apparently making a full recovery.

Friends and family of Litvinenko are dismissive of the Russian inquiry, claiming that it is designed to cover up Kremlin responsibility for his death. Russian authorities have angrily denied any involvement and have pointed the finger instead at critics of Mr Putin, saying that the killing was an attempt to discredit the President’s image in the West.


peter said...

Off topic.
Today reuters does echo Julia claims litvinenko was preparing to blackmail hight placed russians.
Open in a new window to watch the original reuters news

Dead Russian spy planned blackmail: acquaintance

Fri Jan 5, 3:59 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An acquaintance of a former Russian agent killed by radiation poisoning in London said in a television interview that Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Russian President
Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, had planned to blackmail a wealthy Russian businessman.

Russian Julia Svetlichnaya said she was a graduate student in London when she spoke to Litvinenko -- a former Russian state security officer who died on November 23 in London after ingesting polonium 210 -- about a book she was writing.

"He told me ... he's doing a project for blackmailing one of the Russian oligarchs (exiled Russian businessmen) ... in U.K.," Svetlichnaya told CBS television's "60 Minutes" in a program to be aired on Sunday.

"He thought that it was actually an OK thing to do because this particular person, as Litvinenko claimed, had a connection with ... Putin," she said.

The Kremlin has dismissed Litvinenko's deathbed accusation that Putin was behind his poisoning. British police, who say Litvinenko was murdered, have since been to Moscow to question witnesses.

"I can't say it's (Putin's) order, but without his knowledge, it couldn't happen," Litvinenko's widow, Marina, told "60 Minutes" when asked about her husband's death.

She also dismissed the claims that her husband had been planning to blackmail someone, saying that while she didn't know what work he did, he "wasn't a person (who would do that)."

Svetlichnaya would not say who she claimed Litvinenko was planning to blackmail, but said it wasn't exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, who has become the Kremlin's number one enemy.

Berezovsky told "60 Minutes" that Litvinenko had given him information for the tycoon's campaign against Putin and his regime. Berezovsky said he believed his relationship with Litvinenko had been a factor in the former agent's death.

"Unfortunately, I should say yes," Berezovsky said.

Since Litvinenko's death traces of radiation have been found at several sites in London, including a sushi bar where Litvinenko met contacts, a hotel he visited and the offices Berezovsky.

La Russophobe said...

PETER: Thanks for the link, but why do you say "today"? Isn't this old news, from ten days ago?