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Politics

Russia to answer in British Litvinenko death inquiry

A British judge has said that Russia has a case to answer at the formal opening of a public inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko's death. Britain denies any political link between the inquiry and the crash of flight MH17.

A British judge ruled on Thursday that Moscow has a case to answer at the formal opening of a public inquiry into the 2006 death of former KGB spy, Alexander Litvinenko.

Judge Robert Owen said that questions regarding Russian responsibility would be of "central importance" to the inquiry.

Owen also said that he would hear secret evidence regarding the murder of Litvinenko, which would not have been admissible during an inquest. Under English law an inquest examines the cause of death, but does not assign blame.

"Her Majesty's government holds some documents that are relevant to Mr. Litvinenko death but are of such sensitivity that they cannot be used in open court," Owen added.

Last week however, Russia's ambassador to London, Alexnder Yakovenko, said Moscow would not accept the inquiry's judgment if any of the evidence is heard in secret.

Litvinenko, 43, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London hotel.

In a letter written on his death bed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being linked to his killing, after he had publicly criticized the leader and ex-Soviet KGB agent.

Despite increasing tensions with Moscow and the West amid the crisis in Ukraine, the British government last week agreed to open a full public inquiry into the death of the ex-spy.

No political link to MH17 crash

Britain however has strongly denied any link between its decision to launch an inquiry and the ever-growing international pressure on Russia in light of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash over Ukraine on July 17.

Chief suspect and Russian spy-turned-lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi called the inquiry politically motivated.

He and fellow former agent Dmitri Kovtun, who both deny any involvement in Litvenenko's murder, have not been handed over by Moscow, despite an arrest warrant issued by British police.

At the time of Litvenenko's death in 2006, relations between London and Moscow reached a post-Cold War low.

Questions to be answered

The British government previously contested any attempt to open an inquiry, in a bid to avoid revealing sensitive information about British and Russian intelligence.

However a challenge by Litvinenko's widow, Marina (pictured above), resulted in three High Court judges ruling in February that the government must reconsider.

"It's important because the question why [and] who killed my husband has not been answered," said Marina Litvinenko, who was granted British citizenship after fleeing Russia with her husband and son.

"Everybody all around the world will know the truth," she said.

The procedural hearing will take place on September 5, but the hearing of evidence will not begin until January and expected to last until the end of 2015.

kb/hc (Reuters/AFP)

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