Russia was responsible for the 2006 poisoning death of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former spy who took asylum in the UK, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.
In a 6-1 ruling, the Strasbourg-based court found that the Russian government had violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to life.
Russia has consistently denied it was involved in Litvinenko’s death.
Litvinenko had worked for the Russian security services before defecting to and being granted asylum in the UK in 2001. On Nov. 2, 2006, he fell ill and was found to have been poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium 210. He died on Nov. 23.
The widely publicized case has been in the pipeline since 2007 when his widow filed an application, but proceedings were suspended for over a year pending the outcome of a UK inquiry which found Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the killing.
Litvinenko had worked for Russia’s Committee for State Security, popularly known as the KGB, and was later an officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
In 1998, he went public with allegations of having been asked to possibly assassinate a wealthy businessman. Litvinenko was fired and fled Russia.
Asylum and poisoning
He and his family were granted asylum in the UK in 2001, gaining British citizenship five years later and changing their names, but continuing to act as a whistleblower on allegations of wrongdoing by Russian intelligence.
A string of public investigations into Litvinenko’s death led to Andrey Lugovoy, a former member of Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO), and Dmitry Kovtun, both said to have acted as agents of the Russian state.
In 2016 the rights court found strong evidence that Litvinenko had been poisoned, tracing the event to an October 2006 dinner he had had with Lugovoy and Kovtun in London. Litvinenko vomited after the dinner and remained ill for two days. Lugovoy and Kovtun then checked out of their hotel room a day early, a room investigators found to be full of polonium contamination.
Further contamination was also found in the restaurant where the three dined and other associated sites. On Nov. 2, 2006, Litvinenko fell ill, was admitted to hospital, and died a few weeks later. The cause of death was ruled to be acute radiation syndrome caused by polonium 210.
The rights court ruled that the Russian government had “failed to provide any other satisfactory and convincing explanation of events, or counter the findings of the UK inquiry” and that Russian authorities had “not carried out an effective domestic investigation capable of leading to the establishment of the facts.”
The Russian Prosecutor General launched an investigation in December 2006, evidence for which is not available. Although initially charged in May 2007, Lugovoy is presently a member of the Russian parliament and so has parliamentary immunity. An arrest warrant was issued in 2011 for Kovtun. Both remain wanted for the murder./agencies