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Charges against Lugovoi in Litvinenko case ungrounded - Kovtun - 1

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Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun, who was a witness in the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko murder case, said Tuesday that the charges pressed against Andrei Lugovoi by U.K. authorities are totally ungrounded.
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MOSCOW, May 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun, who was a witness in the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko murder case, said Tuesday that the charges pressed against Andrei Lugovoi by U.K. authorities are totally ungrounded.

"I can't separate myself from Andrei Lugovoi. I was there [in London] together with Andrei. I think the charge against him is totally ungrounded and the fact that I have not been charged could mean that it's either a sophisticated political game or just a question of time," Kovtun told Russia's Ren TV.

Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service officer, who received U.K. citizenship a few weeks before his fatal poisoning on November 1 last year, accused Russia's president of orchestrating his death, a charge that Vladimir Putin dismissed as ridiculous. The case, investigated both in London and Moscow, has strained relations between the countries.

Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said May 22 his Crown Prosecution Service had enough evidence to charge Lugovoi with Litvinenko's murder, and that they would be requesting Lugovoi's extradition to the U.K. for trial.

On May 25, the service submitted an official extradition request to the U.K. Home Office, which was made under the European Convention on Extradition and contained a warrant for the arrest of Lugovoi and a detailed summary of the evidence in the case.

On May 28, the request was handed over to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office. Lugovoi, a former security officer turned businessman, has denied any role in the murder, saying the charges were political.

Earlier, Russian prosecutors said referring to the Russian Constitution that Lugovoi would not be extradited to the U.K., but did not rule out he could face trial in Russia.

The press secretary of the Crown Prosecution Service said Tuesday the service only has sufficient grounds to charge Lugovoi with Litvinenko's murder, contradicting information circulating in some media citing unnamed sources that Kovtun could also face prosecution.

Lugovoi and Kovtun, also a former security officer, met with Litvinenko in a London hotel shortly before Alexander was hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning, and have themselves undergone radiation checks. Both have tested positive for the presence of deadly radioactive element polonium-210.

Kovtun has repeatedly denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death, insisting that he is a victim.

More than 700 people in the U.K., Russia and Germany have been tested for polonium-210 after British forensic scientists confirmed the substance had been the cause of Litvinenko's death. The tests revealed relatively high doses of the substance in 17 of those examined.

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