British police finish inquiry on poisoning
British police said Wednesday that they had concluded their investigation of the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, and handed the case to prosecutors for a decision on whether to file charges.
Though authorities refused to disclose their findings, people close to Litvinenko’s family said they believed authorities were leaning toward suspects in Russia as the probable perpetrators.
“From my understanding, they know where and who and how. They know exactly what happened,” said one source, who had not been formally briefed on the police findings.
Prosecutors have said they will review the results of the detectives’ work and determine whether it is appropriate to file charges. But if the results identify suspects in Russia, it might be moot; authorities there have already said it would be impossible under Russian law to extradite them to Britain for trial.
Litvinenko, a former colonel with the Russian security services who resigned and became a dissident in London, was killed with a massive dose of radioactive polonium-210. The poison appears to have been administered Nov. 1 in tea he drank at a London hotel while with two businessmen from Russia, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, both of whom formerly had ties to the Russian security services.
Lugovoy and Kovtun have denied any role in the poisoning and have said they consider themselves victims in the case.
In an interview Wednesday in his London office, exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky said he met with Lugovoy a day before Litvinenko was poisoned. Berezovsky formerly employed Lugovoy and Litvinenko and believes the Russian security services were behind the poisoning.
“Mr. Lugovoy, who now is suspected to be the killer, he was sitting in this room in front of me, and we drank wine with him. And he had not less chances to poison me in this office where we are present now than to do the same in the hotel, putting polonium to a cup of tea of my friend Alexander,” Berezovsky said.
He said he had a “more or less clear answer” to why he was not targeted for poisoning, but had pledged to the police that he would not discuss the case in detail until the investigation was concluded.
“I think the main point for the British government today is that until they find all the rings of [the] chain, how it happened, starting from the place where the polonium was taken until it reached the cup of tea of Alexander, no one British is able to feel protected,” Berezovsky said. “The problem now is whether this government is able to protect the population of this country from the same plot again.”
Many in Russia have suggested that Berezovsky could have poisoned his friend in an effort to discredit Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
The BBC television program “Panorama” reported last week that authorities think Litvinenko may have been poisoned not once, but twice, and may have received an initial dose two weeks before his Nov. 1 meeting at the hotel. Litvinenko had also met Lugovoy and Kovtun on Oct. 16 at a sushi restaurant near Piccadilly Circus, which later was found to have significant traces of polonium-210, the program said.
The restaurant was the same one at which Litvinenko met Italian contact Mario Scaramella on Nov. 1, but Scaramella told the BBC that the polonium had been found at a table other than the one at which he sat with Litvinenko.
Lugovoy attorney Andrei Romashov said his client had not been informed that he was anything other than a witness.
“If the investigation is over and the case is transferred to the prosecutors, a witness should be informed about it, especially if his status has changed. We know nothing about any change in status,” he said.
He said Lugovoy, whose family traveled with him on the trip to London during which he met Litvinenko, would never have knowingly exposed his family.
“It is absurd to think that a person who wants to commit such a serious and socially dangerous crime would bring his entire family, wife and children, along. This doesn’t make sense,” Romashov said.
Russian officials also have launched an inquiry in the case and have discussed traveling to London to interview witnesses. A number of Russian citizens charged or suspected of crimes in Russia have sought political asylum in Britain, including Berezovsky, and Russian investigators have signaled their interest in questioning some of them as part of their own inquiry.
Dmitry Oreshkin, senior political analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geography in Moscow, said it appeared certain that Russia would place insurmountable roadblocks in the way of any notion of Russian suspects being tried in Britain, even if the suspects volunteered to go.
“I think Lugovoy may come out and make a statement to the effect that he is ready to go to London and face the trial, but that statement will most likely be accompanied by a number of hard-to-fulfill demands, like for instance the desire of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate about 100 people in Britain, including dozens of persons related to Yukos,” Oreshkin said, referring to an oil company dismantled as part of a government tax case and whose chief executive has been imprisoned.
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow contributed to this report.