27 February 2013, 22:24

Litvinenko case increasingly murky

Litvinenko case increasingly murky

The London court looking into the case of the poisoned ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko has granted a Foreign Office request to keep some of the details of the case secret for ‘national security reasons.’ Justice Robert Owen also said he reserves the right to close Litvinenko hearings in the future.

Even the British media, which usually take the government’s side in everything that concerns Russia, have criticized the decision as incompatible with freedom of information and undermining public confidence in the country’s legal system.

Litvinenko died in London in November 2006 from what forensic experts described as poisoning with radioactive polonium. Accusations emerged that he was killed by Russia’s FSB security agency for defecting to the UK and offering cooperation to MI6. His alleged killer was promptly named – Russian businessman Mr Alexander Lugovoi, a former bodyguard of the fugitive Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

This is what Director of the Moscow-based Pro-Democracy Research Foundation Dr Maxim Grigoryev has to say:

"It has become known that Mr Litvinenko was on MI6’s payroll. As for Mr Lugovoi, he could not have been involved in the poisoning. If he had been, he would have got a hefty dose himself. Moreover, Mr Lugovoi successfully stood a polygraph test on his suspected involvement. The result was 100-percent negative. Mr Lugovoi is innocent. The accusations against him are part of an anti-Russian propaganda campaign."

It’s anyone’s guess exactly what is being hushed up. Many believe it is Litvinenko’s ties with MI6. Others suspect it is forensic conclusions that Russian services could not have been involved in Litvinenko’s poisoning.

Dr Yelena Ananyeva is an expert at the British Studies Centre of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences:

"Russia and Britain are not the only parties in this conundrum. Spain may also have been involved. There is some evidence that Litvinenko supplied information to the Spanish intelligence service. Under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, classified information can only be released into the public domain after 30 years. We have to wait."

In Russia, many officials and observers believe that Mr Litvinenko was eliminated by Boris Berezovsky after he tried to blackmail the fugitive tycoon and his employer and paymaster for more money. Others say the killing was a well-planned provocation intended to give Russia a bad name.

Anyway, Russia is interested in the maximum possible transparency in the Litvinenko case. Unfortunately, dotting the Is and crossing the Ts in everything that concerns Litvinenko is way off.

Details to be excluded in Litvinenko case trial

UK High Court Judge, Sir Robert Owen, has ruled to exclude some details of the inquest into ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko's death from hearings. He has also announced the trial may go behind the closed doors if the exposure of evidence would threaten UK’s security interests.

The decision came after UK Foreign Secretary William Hague requested to conceal details of former KGB agent’s death, citing "serious harm" to national interests.

Opponents of this move claim the government hasn’t revealed what sort of information is to be concealed and failed to prove that the exposed data could actually do harm to UK national security.

They also pointed out that the trial will be dragged out considered the amount of evidence that would be looked into to determine whether it can be exposed to public.


Litvinenko case to be heard in secret

Brendan Cole

A pre-inquest hearing into the case of Alexander Litvinenko has been adjourned at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Lawyers acting for the British Government have claimed that certain information should not be heard in open court as it could prejudice 'national security'. But lawyers acting for Mr. Litvinenko's widow and for the media claim that the coroner's inquest should hear all of the evidence available surrounding the circumstances of his death. VoR correspondent spoke with Mary Dejevsky, a columnist with the Independent Newspaper in London, and asked her why the British government would want this case to be heard in secret.

There are two reasons. One of them is because the government has been extremely sensitive about suggesting that UK intelligence was involved in any way with Alexander Litvinenko. His widow has said that he was not only in contact with British intelligence but that he was actually paid by British intelligence. This is something the British authorities have not wanted to say at any stage, and it still seems likely that they don’t want to admit this.

The second reason is that they are worried in general about expositing secret agents, both giving away their identity and the methods they use. And they are extremely sensitive about this – not just in relation to Russia in a sort of very traditional espionage that one associates with British-Russian relations – but also with the intelligence that they have gained or used to track, for instance, terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa.

Indeed, the UK itself has called for transparency on the Russian side in terms of its call for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect. But this is a least transparent act, and it could lead to claims and counterclaims and charges of hypocrisy?

Absolutely, and I’m sure the British government is well aware that it’s inviting these charges. Obviously, it thinks that what it judges to be its security interests override all those difficulties they might see as presentational difficulties. I am not sure that the problems that we heard about in court today – that the government wanted to stop anybody to do with security testifying at the inquest– whether they are insurmountable. We have heard some cases before, where the security services have objected to either giving evidence in court at all or in this format, in which they have been required to appear, and some sort of compromise has been reached.

What surprises me with this is how very unconditional the government’s application has been, because this comes directly from the Foreign Secretary. And the report sitting in front of me says: “The Foreign Secretary has moved to exclude details of former KGB agent’s ties to MI6,” saying that they can pose a risk of “serious harm to the public…”

Forgive me for interrupting there, but under that application by the government – it’s called a broad Public Interests Immunity certificate – how unusual are these certificates in terms of intervention?

To have one that sounds so absolute is, I would say, extremely unusual. The last time that I remember we had an issue of whether a security agent should testify – and it was also at an inquest – was during the inquest into the London bombing. And there the court wanted to know whether the security services had knowledge of any of the people identified as responsible for the London bombings before the atrocity was committed.

Indeed, it sounds like the circumstances of his death are highly controversial, but do we know when the actual inquest will take place?

It was speculated that the original date could be as soon as the beginning of May. But I see that the reports today, citing the objections of the Foreign Secretary and the general difficulties relating to the testimony, say that it could be postponed. Now, if it were postponed, I think, it could be in a matter of months. Then we are looking into later in the year, and we are talking about seven years since Alexander Litvinenko died.

Voice of Russia, RIA

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