July 31 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will probe the Russian government’s possible involvement in the murder of a former spy on British soil, the judge in charge of the inquiry said at a London court today.
Judge Robert Owen officially opened the inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko’s death almost 8 years ago, following an announcement by Home Secretary Theresa May last week.
“I regard the issue” of Russian state involvement in the murder as “being of central importance to my investigation,” said Owen, who added that he wanted the first substantive hearing to take place in January.
Litvinenko, a critic of the Kremlin who lived in the U.K. capital, died in November 2006 about three weeks after being exposed to radioactive polonium hidden in a pot of tea. British prosecutors said in 2007 that another former Russian intelligence officer, Andrei Lugovoi, should be charged with murder. There is evidence indicating the Russian government was also involved, lawyers working said in December 2012.
Russia is locked in its worst diplomatic crisis with Europe and the U.S. since the end of the Cold War after pro-Russian rebels were accused of shooting down Malaysian Air Flight MH17 and obstructing efforts to investigate the crash.
Owen officially closed the long-running inquest into the murder today, which heard allegations of Russian state sponsored terrorism on the streets of London. It follows repeated requests to the U.K. government from Owen and Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, to hold a public inquiry.
U.K. inquests can’t be held in private without all parties present whereas an inquiry can be heard in secret where there are concerns over national security.
“Because of the sensitivity of” the U.K. government’s evidence, “it is inevitable that at least some of my final report will also have to remain secret,” Owen said. “But I make it clear now that I intend to make public my final conclusions on the issue of Russian state responsibility together with as much as possible of my reasoning in that regard.”
Marina Litvinenko thanked the judge for opening the inquiry and that she looked forward to getting to the truth.
“Everybody around the world will know the truth,” she said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London today.
Russia will never accept non-judicial conclusions on the Litvinenko case, envoy to London Alexander Yakovenko said last week, according a report by the Itar-Tass news agency.
“We will never recognize any public judgement based on evidences that haven’t undergone competitive process in the court,” he said, according to Itar-Tass.
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