|London asks Moscow to extradite agent
22 May, 2007 l 2106 hrs ISTlRashmee Roshan Lall/TIMES NEWS NETWORK
LONDON: Britain on Tuesday asked Russia to extradite a former KGB officer it charged with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Kremlim spy who died of radioactive poisoning British soil last November.
But in a sign that diplomatic relations between London and Moscow could once again plunge to record post-Cold War lows over the Litvinenko affair, the Russian prosecutor-general has already been reported to say that Russia will not extradite Britain's most-wanted man.
The Russian 'nyet' came just hours after Britain's leading prosecutor said KGB agent-turned-businessman Andrei Lugovoi should face trial for poisoning Litvinenko with the highly-toxic, exceedingly rare alpha-emitter metal Polonium 210 in central London.
Observers said Russia's reported flat refusal to extradite Lugovoi could return diplomatic ties between the two countries to the crisis-ridden months when British investigators travelled to Moscow and further afield to piece together the bizarre saga of the spy's death by radioactive poisoning, even as President Putin's critics lined up to denounce the Russian strongman's sinister and secure hold on all levers of power in post-Communist Russia.
Litvinenko's friends, including the exiled London-based Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, have repeatedly accused the Kremlin of ordering his assassination but the Russian government has denied any involvement.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett publicly said she had told the Russian ambassador she expected "full co-operation" in the extradition request. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the UK's most senior diplomat had met the Russian Ambassador to "underline that they should comply with the extradition request.” He added that the UK government had "left nobody in any doubt at all as to the seriousness with which we view this case.”
In an indication of Britain's resolute stand on the extradition issue, its chief prosecutor Ken MacDonald said he had "concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning. I have further concluded that a prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest. In those circumstances, I have instructed Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to take immediate steps to seek the early extradition of Andrei Lugovoi from Russia to the United Kingdom, so that he may be charged with murder – and be brought swiftly before a court in London to be prosecuted for this extraordinarily grave crime."
Litvinenko's widow Marina said that she welcomed the decision.
Lugovoi has always denied any involvement in the mysterious death of Litvinenko, a dissident and security service defector famously hostile to President Putin's regime, who fled to Britain in 2000 saying he feared for his life in Putin's Russia.