The Russian government was involved in the murder of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was working for MI6 and Spanish secret services at the time of his death, a coroner has heard today.
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At a pre-inquest hearing, Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, said that assessments of confidential material submitted by the British government had "established a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko".
Mr Litvinenko, 43, died in November 2006 after he was poisoned with polonium-210. He had been drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square. He was said to be at a meeting, allegedly with two Russians, the former KGB contacts Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun.
After his death, relations between the UK and Russia plunged to a new low as the director of public prosecutions announced in May 2007 that it would seek to charge Mr Lugovoy with the murder. Russia refused a request for the suspect to be extradited to Britain. Mr Lugovoy denied any involvement in the murder.
Camden Town Hall in London heard how Mr Litvinenko had been working for MI6 for a number of years, and had been asked by the agency to work with the Spanish secret service who were investigating the Russian mafia shortly before his death.
Mr Emmerson said that Mr Litvinenko would regularly meet with an MI6 handler, named as Martin, in central London, and was paid into a bank account he shared with his wife, Marina, by British and Spanish secret services.
He had been due to travel to Spain with Mr Lugovoy shortly before his death to provide intelligence in an investigation into the Russian mafia's links to the Kremlin and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko's wife Marina said. The investigation was looking at links between Russian political parties, organised crime and arms trafficking.
Mr Emmerson said that as Mr Litvinenko had been asked by MI6 to work with the Spanish secret service, the inquest should consider whether "detailed risk assessments" were carried out. He said the inquest should also consider whether MI6 failed in its duty to protect against a "real and immediate risk to life".
But Mr Davies said that assessments of confidential material submitted by the British government had shown no evidence to suggest it was involved in the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko or that it failed to take necessary steps to protect him.
The evidence also ruled out the involvement of other parties, including friend Boris Berezovsky, Chechen-related groups and the Spanish mafia, he added.
Neither 'confirm nor deny'
Neil Garnham QC, representing the Home Office, told the hearing he could "neither confirm nor deny" whether Mr Litvinenko was employed by British intelligence services.
Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Litvinenko said that she was pleased the alleged involvement of the Russian government in her husband's murder would now be considered by the inquest.
"We've been saying this many times but this is the first time this question has been raised in court," she said.
"I appreciate all that was done today and I'm looking forward to any decision which will be taken by the coroner after today's hearing."
The Russian Federation has now indicated its wish to become an interested party in the inquest, which is to be held on 1 May.
The inquest will be held before high court judge Sir Robert Owen, who has been appointed assistant deputy coroner.