Putin 'probably approved' murder of Russian ex-spy: UK inquiry

Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the radiation poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, a British judge said Thursday at the conclusion of a public inquiry into his agonising death

Thursday January 21 2016

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was allegedly poisoned at a hotel by a cup of tea laced with polonium-210 -- a rare radioactive isotope only available in closed nuclear facilities. AFP Photo  

By AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the radiation poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, a British judge said Thursday at the conclusion of a public inquiry into his agonising death.

"The FSB (Russian security agency) operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by.... President Putin," judge Robert Owen said at London's High Court.

This is breaking news. Check back later for details. A previous version of the report follows.

A British judge could point the finger at Russia on Thursday for the radiation poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London as an inquiry into his agonising death publishes its conclusions.

The Guardian newspaper reported the inquiry could "find the Russian state liable for his death" in 2006 and said diplomats were urging Prime Minister David Cameron not to launch major sanctions in retaliation.

The inquiry's chairman, judge Robert Owen, said even before the start of the hearings last year that he believed there was evidence of "a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state".

Russia, which is key to ongoing talks on the Syria conflict has condemned the inquiry as "politicised".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged it off on the eve of publication, saying: "This is not in the range of topics that are of interest to us".

Litvinenko's widow Marina has led a long campaign for an inquiry and told AFP in an interview last year that it was "the last thing I can do for him".

"My struggle has been for the facts to be made public," she said, adding: "For me it is just important to finally have an official explanation".

'Nuclear terrorism'
Litvinenko was allegedly poisoned at a hotel by a cup of tea laced with polonium-210 -- an extremely expensive radioactive isotope only available in closed nuclear facilities -- in a sequence of events which could have come from a Cold War thriller.

The ex-KGB agent turned freelance investigator and Kremlin critic publicly accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his killing before he died in agony three weeks later on November 23, 2006.

Litvinenko's killing caused widespread public outrage in Britain after radioactive traces were found at various sites around London and it was dubbed by the media as the world's first act of "nuclear terrorism".

The original police investigation led British prosecutors to demand the extradition from Russia on murder charges of Andrei Lugovoi, a former Kremlin bodyguard who had tea with Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel in London's upmarket Mayfair area.

Russia has refused to extradite him.

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