Coroner orders new Litvinenko inquiries

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The Independent Online

A coroner today ordered new inquiries into the murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London five years ago as police said prosecutors were considering fresh evidence about the former Russian agent's death.

Litvinenko died from poisoning by radioactive polonium in November 2006, plunging relations between Britain and Russia to a post-Cold War low. Bad feelings over the issue still run deep.

Britain remains unhappy at Russia's refusal to extradite the main murder suspect Andrei Lugovoy, an ex-KGB bodyguard who was later elected to Russia's lower house of parliament. He denies any involvement.

Litvinenko, who lived and worked in Britain, was poisoned using polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic radioactive isotope, which was slipped to him in a cup of tea at a plush hotel.

"We can confirm that the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) delivered further papers to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) in August and these are under review by the CPS," a spokesman for London's police said.

The CPS said they expected to conclude their review of the evidence at the end of October.

Litvinenko's wife Marina has long argued that the Russian state was complicit in her husband's death and has demanded that Britain should hold a wide-ranging inquest into his death.

At a pre-inquest review on Thursday, coroner Andrew Reid said he had delayed a decision on the exact scale of the inquiry or whether he or a senior judge should preside over it.

"I have indicated my preliminary view that there should be further investigations into the wider circumstances about which allegations were made at the hearings today," Reid said.

"I, and all properly interested persons, await a further decision by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to Mr Litvinenko's death."

The London Evening Standard newspaper reported Reid had agreed in principle at the hearing that the inquiry should be similar to the far-reaching probe carried out into the London suicide bombings of 2005.

It said Reid had rejected the government's call for a narrow inquest and ordered the police, and the domestic and foreign spy agencies, MI5 and MI6, to carry out further inquiries.

Marina Litvinenko told the Evening Standard it was an important decision and "exactly what I wanted".

Britain's Foreign Office said the government remained committed to seeking justice over Litvinenko's death.

"This was a crime which took place in the UK and involved a British citizen. Our aim remains to see this matter tried in a UK court," a government spokesman said.

Last month, Russia said it was prepared to investigate the murder but wanted Britain to pass on information about the case so it could be pursued in a Russian court, accusing the British of failing to cooperate on the matter.

According to a leaked secret U.S. cable published by WikiLeaks last December, a Russian official said shortly after Litvinenko's death that Russia had been tracking the dissident's assassins but had been warned off by Britain.

He also indicated that the Kremlin had not been involved in the murder.