Britain accused of politicizing probe
MOSCOW – Russia’s top diplomat said Britain is politicizing the investigation into the poisoning death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and warned Friday that it was straining relations between the two countries.”Instead of a professional inquiry, we’re seeing an attempt to turn the criminal case into some sort of a political campaign,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters.”It’s having an impact” on bilateral ties, he said. The statement was in contrast to First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov’s assessment last week that the case was having little effect on relations.Britain last month accused Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent-turned-businessman, of killing Litvinenko, who had received British citizenship, and formally requested his extradition. Russia refused, saying it could prosecute Lugovoi at home if Britain presented enough evidence.Lavrov’s remarks followed Lugovoi’s claim Thursday that British intelligence services had a hand in the slaying.Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic and renegade member of the Russian secret services hated by many former colleagues, died in a London hospital in November after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. From his deathbed, he accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning – charges the Kremlin has angrily denied.Lugovoi, a Moscow businessman who met with Litvinenko on Nov. 1 in London, hours before the former agent fell ill, described the accusations against him as an effort to shift suspicion away from the British spy services, who he said might be implicated in the crime. He said he would give evidence of their involvement only to Russian investigators.The British Foreign Office declined comment.Lugovoi alleged that Litvinenko tried to recruit him to work for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and to gather compromising materials about Putin and his family. He also claimed exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky – a friend of Litvinenko’s and a fellow Kremlin critic – was working for British intelligence.Russian authorities have sought Berezovsky’s extradition to face charges of economic crimes that Berezovsky says are politically motivated. Lugovoi also suggested that Berezovsky could have been behind Litvinenko’s killing, purportedly for having evidence that Berezovsky had received asylum under false pretenses.Berezovsky called Lugovoi’s allegations “absolutely false.”Meanwhile, human rights activists said a former security agent who claimed to have warned Litvinenko that a government-sponsored death squad was targeting him could die of asthma in his Siberian prison if authorities continue refusing to hospitalize him.Mikhail Trepashkin, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, is serving a four-year sentence for revealing state secrets.”Conditions behind bars jeopardize his life,” said rights activist and Kremlin critic Lev Ponomaryov. “He has bad asthma with allergic complications, and prison doctors stuff him with inadequate drugs.”Trepashkin, 50, is imprisoned near a large industrial plant whose toxic emissions have badly aggravated his condition, Ponomaryov said.Officials have rejected appeals that he be hospitalized or transferred from the prison in Nizhny Tagil, 750 miles east of Moscow.In letters released by his lawyers last year, Trepashkin said he had warned Litvinenko about a government-sponsored death squad that intended to kill him and other Kremlin opponents.Russia’s top prosecutor dismissed the letters as “stupidity” and refused to allow British investigators to talk to Trepashkin during a December trip to investigate Litvinenko’s poisoning.Trepashkin “fell victim of a typical KGB revenge, and they want to wreck him physically,” said Valentin Gefter, director of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute.—Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report.
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