British prosecutors announced Tuesday that they would seek the extradition of Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi to charge him with poisoning Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko last November.
However, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has ruled out the possibility of extradition, saying Lugovoi could only be brought to account in Russia.
The head of the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service, Ken Macdonald, said: “I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko,” and vowed to “take immediate steps to seek the early extradition of Andrei Lugovoi” to bring him swiftly to trial in London.
But Russian Prosecutor General’s Office spokeswoman Marina Gridneva said: “A citizen who committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state in line with materials submitted by the state can be brought to criminal account, but only on Russian territory, if Russian laws stipulate responsibility for a similar crime.”
She said a Russian citizen could not be handed over to another state, as it would be against the Constitution.
Russian lawyers representing Lugovoi, who is being treated by Russian investigators as a witness in the poisoning case, said they have not been officially notified of the charges.
“I know nothing [about the charges]. If there are any, we should be formally notified. So far, we have not received any such documents,” Andrei Romashov, one of Lugovoi’s lawyers, said.
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 Moscow and London.
Lugovoi, a former security officer turned businessman, has vehemently denied complicity in the murder.
The U.K. Foreign Office said Tuesday that British authorities expect Russia to fully cooperate on the Litvinenko case, adding that this had been passed onto the Russian ambassador, Yury Fedotov, who was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Tuesday.
The Russian embassy press service confirmed that Fedotov was summoned to the Foreign Office but said the ambassador would not make any statements yet.
A source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russian authorities have not yet received official documents charging Lugovoi with Litvinenko’s murder.
“We know that Lugovoi has been charged with the crime. At present Russian authorities are waiting official information from Britain regarding this to familiarize themselves with it in detail,” the source said.
Litvinenko was charged with abuse of office in Russia in the late 1990s after he publicly claimed he had been ordered by his superiors at the FSB to assassinate exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who is now wanted in Russia on charges of fraud and sedition.
He met the oligarch through a friend on his arrival in the U.K. several years later, and began working for him as an adviser.
Lugovoi and another former security officer, Dmitry Kovtun, 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 in their blood.
Kovtun has repeatedly denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death, insisting that he is himself 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.