LONDON (AFP) – The most sensational spy tale since the Cold War landed in a London court on Tuesday as inquiry hearings began to examine alleged Russian state involvement in the radiation poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.
The former agent with Russia’s FSB security service, who was doing work for Britain’s MI6, was killed with Polonium-210 and the case was referred to at the time as the world’s first act of nuclear terrorism.
British police believe that the radioactive isotope was stirred into Litvinenko’s tea by Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, two acquaintances visiting from Moscow, at a meeting in a London hotel on November 1, 2006.
He died three weeks later and a statement in his name accused President Vladimir Putin, saying that “the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life”.
“The issues to which his death gives rise are of the utmost gravity,” the inquiry’s chairman Robert Owen said at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.
Owen said closed-doors hearings would examine intelligence material on “the issue of Russian state responsibility for Mr Litvinenko’s death”.