Russia complains of 'long delay' from Britain in poisoning inquiry

Wednesday, February 7th 2007, 11:09 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia complained on Wednesday about a ``long delay'' in the British response to its request to send investigators to London for inquiries into the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

The statement was the latest suggestion of tension between Britain and Russia over the investigation into the death of the fierce Kremlin critic who succumbed to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November and blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the prosecutor general's office sent a request Jan. 8 asking permission to send investigators to London, where Russian prosecutors have said they want to visit several sites and question about 100 people, including outspoken Putin foe Boris Berezovsky.

``So far, no answer has been received,'' Kamynin said. ``Such a long delay in considering the Russian request causes regret, especially against the background of the readiness displayed by the Russian side for swift and constructive cooperation in this question at the professional level.''

Litvinenko fled to Britain and was granted asylum after accusing his superiors of ordering him to kill Berezovsky, a Russian tycoon and one-time Kremlin insider who also has been granted British citizenship.

Litvinenko accused Russian authorities of being behind the deadly 1999 apartment building bombings that stoked support for a renewed offensive against separatists in Chechnya under Putin, who was prime minister at the time. Litvinenko died in a London hospital on Nov. 23.

British investigators traveled to Moscow in December and participated in the questioning of Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, two businessmen who also were in the Russian security services and who met with Litvinenko in London on Nov. 1, hours before he said he fell ill.

With Litvinenko's death hurting Russia's image and international speculation focusing on whether Russian security agencies could have killed him, with or without Kremlin approval, Russian prosecutors opened their own investigation into Litvinenko's poisoning and what they called the attempted murder of Kovtun.

On Sunday, the prosecutor general's office said that it hoped to receive a positive response from Britain this week on the request to send investigators. Britain's Home Office confirmed that it had received a request but has declined to comment on the nature and timing of a possible response.

The Russian statement came amid media speculation about the level of cooperation that Russia has provided British authorities in their investigation. The British detectives were not allowed to carry out their own interviews with Kovtun and Lugovoi, instead sitting in on questioning conducted by Russian prosecutors.

In an article published late last month in a Russian newspaper, British Ambassador Anthony Brenton urged full cooperation by Moscow. Litvinenko's widow, Marina, sent a letter to Putin last week suggesting that Russia is not cooperating fully with British authorities.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said last month that British investigators want to return to Russia to continue the inquiry and hinted they would only be permitted to do so if Russian authorities were allowed to investigate in Britain.

Berezovsky reiterated Monday that he is willing to meet Russian officials investigating in the case and said Litvinenko told him in the hospital that he suspected Lugovoi was involved in his poisoning. In Russia, pro-Kremlin lawmakers and state-run media have speculated that Berezovsky could have been behind Litvinenko's death.