Coroner asks for public inquiry into spy’s death

LONDON (AP) — A coroner overseeing a British inquest into the 2006 poisoning death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko said Wednesday he has asked for a new public inquiry to be held so that crucial evidence can be scrutinized.

The call came after widespread concerns that the existing inquest would be effectively powerless to determine what happened to Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who died after he was poisoned in London with radioactive polonium-210.

Britain’s government has barred the inquest from considering sensitive evidence, including documents relating to Russia’s alleged role in Litvinenko’s death, citing national security concerns.

Litvinenko’s widow and a group of British media companies, including The Guardian and The Financial Times have, joined coroner Robert Owen in calling for a separate inquiry, saying that is now the best option for finding out the truth about the former agent’s death. The government said Wednesday it would consider the request, but there was no indication that the key evidence will be provided in a new inquiry.

“An adequate investigation into Mr. Litvinenko’s death must fully investigate any available credible evidence of Russian state responsibility,” said a submission by lawyers acting for the agent’s widow, Maria. “An inquiry will be able to investigate the withheld evidence. There are higher chances of at least part of it being disclosed publicly, than if there is no inquiry.”

Litvinenko, 43, died after drinking tea laced with polonium at a London hotel in November 2006.

His family says he was working for Britain’s intelligence services at the time of his death and believes he was killed on the orders of the Kremlin. Britain accuses two Russians of the killing, but Moscow has refused to extradite the men, who both denied the charges.

Owen has been leading an inquest to find out the circumstances surrounding Litvinenko’s death, but last month he raised doubts about whether it could continue to be useful after British Foreign Secretary William Hague applied to keep certain evidence secret on national security grounds.

The withheld material related to the Russian state’s alleged role in the case and material about whether British security officials could have done anything to prevent the death.

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Online: http://www.litvinenkoinquest.org

Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/sylviahui

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