By ALAN COWELL.NEWYORK TIMES. December 13, 2012
Alexander V. Litvinenko
New testimony that emerged Thursday deepened the intrigue surrounding the death of the former K.G.B. officer Alexander V. Litvinenko, offering “prima facie” evidence of Russian state involvement and indicating that he had been a paid agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, lawyers at a preliminary inquest hearing said.
Mr. Litvinenko died after ingesting a rare and highly toxic radioactive isotope, polonium 210, which British investigators later traced to a pot of tea served to him at an upscale hotel in Grosvenor Square, opposite the American Embassy in central London. British prosecutors have charged another former K.G.B. operative, Andrei K. Lugovoi, with the killing. Mr. Lugovoi has denied the charge.
The potentially explosive assertions were made at a procedural hearing before a full inquest, set for May 2013, into Mr. Litvinenko’s death.
In a statement composed on his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko accused the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin of responsibility for his death.
Hugh Davies, a lawyer acting for the inquest, said evidence provided by the British government had established a “prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”
The charge is certain to infuriate the Kremlin, which has denied involvement but sheltered Mr. Lugovoi from a British demand for his extradition.
Neither the Russian authorities nor Mr. Lugovoi offered any immediate response to the accusation on Thursday. Mr. Litvinenko’s adversaries had long depicted him as an agent of British intelligence, accusing him of trying to recruit Mr. Lugovoi. But the details of his role had not been enumerated publicly until the hearing on Thursday.
Ben Emmerson, a lawyer representing Mr. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina Litvinenko, said that Mr. Litvinenko, who fled to Britain in 2000 and became a British citizen weeks before his death, had for some years been a “registered and paid agent and employee of MI6, with a dedicated handler whose pseudonym was Martin.”
He would meet his handler in central London, Mr. Emmerson said, and discuss the encounters with his wife.
Mr. Litvinenko also worked for the Spanish intelligence service, Mr. Emmerson said, and both the British and Spanish spy agencies made payments into a joint account with his wife. He added that the inquest next year should consider whether MI6 failed in its duty to protect him against a “real and immediate risk to life.”
Mr. Litvinenko’s contacts and meetings with Mr. Lugovoi have been documented in the past, but there seemed to be a further twist to their relationship, according to Mr. Emmerson, who said the two former K.G.B. officers had been scheduled to travel together to Spain to give evidence to the Spanish security services about possible links between Russian organized crime and the Kremlin.
A lawyer for the British authorities, Neil Garnham, said he could neither confirm nor deny whether Mr. Litvinenko had been a British agent.
Mr. Litvinenko was also a close associate of the self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, another of Mr. Putin’s adversaries. Hugo Keith, a lawyer acting for Mr. Berezovsky, denied any involvement by his client.
“It’s not open to an individual to get polonium 210,” he said. “The suggestion that Mr. Berezovsky is responsible is implausible.”
The death of Mr. Litvinenko deeply strained the relationship between Russia and Britain, and the new testimony set the stage for highly contentious hearings in May, at which both governments may be forced to deal with unwelcome questions about what their security services knew about events leading to the killing.