UK Opens Probe Into Alexander Litvinenko’s Death

The U.K. will hold an independent public probe into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died after being poisoned in 2006. The new Litvinenko death probe will be independent from an ongoing government inquest and will be held by the U.K. Home Office.

Litvinenko’s widow has been pressing for a public inquiry into the former spy’s death in addition to a basic inquest, according to CNN. The first investigation is led by a coroner and is held as a matter of course for any unnatural death in England. Sir Robert Owen, the coroner for the government inquest, will chair the inquiry.

A statement from the U.K. Home Office explained, “It is more than seven years since Mr. Litvinenko’s death and this government remains committed to seeking justice for his family. It is hoped this inquiry will go some way to achieve this goal.”

Unlike an inquest, a public inquiry may receive evidence behind closed doors. In the case of the late Russian spy, such evidence might involve matters of national security. Alexander’s widow, Marina Litvinenko, argued that a public inquiry would allow the fullest possible investigation in this case.

Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning on this deathbed, but the Kremlin vehemently denies the accusations. Unlike the inquest, a the new Litvinenko death probe can look at whether the Russian state was responsible for the mysterious death of the former spy turned Kremlin critic.

The man’s death outraged London and severely hurt relations between the two nations, reports Yahoo! News. Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman assured reporters that there was “no link whatsoever” between the increase in international pressure on Russia over the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster and the launch of the inquiry into Litvinenko’s death.

Litvinenko’s widow told reporters she was “relieved and delighted” by the news of the new inquiry. She added, “It sends a message to Sasha’s murderers: no matter how strong and powerful you are, truth will win out in the end and you will be held accountable for your crimes.”

Marina added, “It has taken nearly eight years to bring those culpable for Sasha’s murder to justice. I look forward to the day when the truth behind my husband’s murder is revealed for the whole world to see.”

The former Russian spy, who was once an agent in the country’s FSB intelligence agency, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London hotel. British police identified Russian spy-turned-lawmaker Andrei Lugovi as the chief suspect and issued an arrest warrant for his fellow former agent Dmitri Kovtun. Moscow has refused to hand them over and both deny involvement.

The new Litvinenko death probe will begin on July 31, and is expected to last until the end of 2015.

[Image by John Armagh]