One of the two Russian men wanted for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko appears to have offered to give evidence to the inquiry into the former KGB agent’s death.
Lawyers told the hearing that “a man who has given his name as Dmitri Kovtun” has declared he is “willing to take part”.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Mr Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy, also former KGB agents, in relation to the death of Mr Litvinenko, who drank a fatal dose of polonium-210 during a meeting with them at the Millennium Hotel, London, in November 2006.
Both Mr Kovtun and Mr Lugovoy, now a Russian politician, have previously denied involvement in the murder and Russia has refused extradition requests.
The news that Mr Kovtun was offering to talk was met with suspicion by Scotland Yard. Richard Horwell QC, who is representing the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at the inquiry, said: “We have grave concerns about what may be behind this development.”
Inquiry chairman, Sir Robert Owen, said he shared the concerns: “It is highly regrettable that it is so late in the day that this approach and application from Dmitri Kovtun has been made.” The inquiry was told that Mr Kovtun would not be able to give evidence until after Easter. Sir Robert commented: “This matter cannot be allowed to drift on.”
Sir Robert has said that intelligence gathered by the secret service has established a “prima facie” case that the Russian state was behind Mr Litvinenko’s murder. The inquiry has also been looking into whether Mr Litvinenko was attempting to blackmail or sell sensitive information about powerful people, and the potential role of organised crime in his killing.
Ben Emmerson, QC for Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina, said: “It is an unexpected development that Mr Kovtun should now seek to show his face, but if that’s what he wants to do, then we would be more than happy to facilitate the opportunity to have a proper chance to question this man about his conduct and his role in the murder of Mr Litvinenko.” The next public inquiry hearing is on 30 March.