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British U-turn on inquiry into ex-KGB agent murder

Photographers photograph Marina Litvinenko (R), the wife of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006, as she gives a news conference with lawyer Elena Tsirlina in London July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

LONDON: Britain announced Tuesday it would hold a public inquiry into the death of a former Russian spy who accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, but denied the decision was linked to the Ukraine crisis.

A year ago, the British government declined to order an inquiry into the killing of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died after drinking tea poisoned with a radioactive isotope in a London hotel in 2006. That led to accusations Britain was appeasing the Kremlin, which has always denied involvement.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron denied there was a connection between the decision to hold an inquiry and the Ukraine crisis.

“I can very clearly and firmly say there isn’t a link,” he told reporters.

Litvinenko’s wife Marina said she too believed the decision had not been taken as a result of events in Ukraine. “I am definitely sure it was not taken because of this [the Ukraine situation],” she told reporters. “I was waiting for this since February. I believed one day it would happen. I do this not against Russia. I do this for justice, for truth.”

The inquiry will be chaired by Robert Owen, the judge in charge of the inquest into Litvinenko’s death who has said there is evidence indicating Russian involvement in the murder, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.

Owen himself had called for an inquiry, saying the inquest – a British legal process held in cases of violent or unnatural deaths – could not get to the truth because he could not consider secret evidence held by the British government.

Relations between the countries fell to a post-Cold War low following the death of the 43-year-old Kremlin critic who had been granted British citizenship. He died days after being poisoned with polonium-210.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2014, on page 11.

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