Tony Halpin and Daniel McGrory
Saturday, January 13, 2007
The Kremlin has unleashed a bureaucratic blitz on Scotland Yard
as part of Russia’s investigation into the murder of the
former spy Alexander Litvinenko.
Prosecutors in Moscow have asked British detectives to interview
more than 100 people and carry out dozens of searches in a 110-page
request for assistance. Alexander Zvyagintsev, the Russian deputy
prosecutorgeneral, said that he had asked the Home Office for
its full co-operation.
The scale of the Russian request has prompted suspicions that
Moscow is seeking to stall the investigation by overwhelming Scotland
Yard with largely irrelevant demands.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office in Moscow did not open
an inquiry into Litvinenko’s death until December 7, two
days after a team of British detectives arrived in Russia to interview
Mr Zvyagintsev insisted that Moscow had “a lot of questions
about this case”. He pointed to the assistance given to
the British detectives as justification for expecting London to
co-operate. He indicated that Russia was preparing to send its
own team to London to join the inquiry into the death of the former
FSB officer, who was an outspoken critic of President Putin.
“We asked [the UK authorities] to question more than 100
witnesses and conduct dozens of searches. In our request, we formulated
questions that we would like to have answered,” he told
the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.
“We want these investigative efforts to proceed in the
presence of our detectives. We hope that our UK colleagues will
respond to our request as promptly as we did recently.”
The Kremlin also wants Russian prosecutors to interview other
prominent critics of Mr Putin living in London. The billionaire
businessman Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen separatist envoy
Akhmed Zakayev are top of the list.
Both men were friends of Litvinenko, who fled Russia after accusing
the security service, then led by Mr Putin, of ordering him to
assassinate Mr Berezovsky.
Mr Zvyagintsev said that the British police had received every
assistance during their visit to Moscow, adding: “We did
even more than they had asked us to do.” Scotland Yard takes
a rather different view. Detectives were barred from questioning
witnesses directly and were allowed only to listen as Russian
prosecutors questioned them.
The British team took answers from two key Russian witnesses,
Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun. Both met Litvinenko at a London
hotel on November 1, the day that he was poisoned with radioactive
Mr Lugovoy, a former KGB security guard, and Mr Kovtun, his business
partner, have denied any involvement in the killing. They were
interviewed in hospital, where they were said to be suffering
the effects of radiation contamination.
German police are investigating Mr Kovtun after traces of polonium-210
were found in places he visited in Hamburg, shortly before travelling
to London. Russian prosecutors describe him as a victim of attempted
murder and say they are investigating his case alongside that
Mr Kovtun has not been seen in public for six weeks, but Mr Lugovoy
left hospital last week after apparently making a full recovery.
Friends and family of Litvinenko are dismissive of the Russian
inquiry, claiming that it is designed to cover up Kremlin responsibility
for his death. Russian authorities have angrily denied any involvement
and have pointed the finger instead at critics of Mr Putin, saying
that the killing was an attempt to discredit the President’s
image in the West.