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Spy death: Russia blocks extradition

Story Highlights

• Russian prosecutors say they will refuse to extradite Andrei Lugovoi
• Ex-KGB agent charged with murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko
• Litvinenko died in London after being poisoned with radioactive Polonium-210
• He blamed President Putin for his poisoning -- an allegation the Kremlin denied
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Russian prosecutors say they will refuse to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, charged by Britain in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, to London because of a constitutional ban.

Earlier Tuesday British officials said they wanted to bring Lugovoi before a British court and charge him with the "extraordinarily grave crime" of murdering Litvinenko in London last November.

"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 by deliberate poisoning," Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said in London.

Litvinenko, who was a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and had been granted political asylum in the UK, died in a London hospital last November, several weeks after he was poisoned with polonium-210.

The case has put pressure on relations between London and Moscow, and Tuesday's announcement threatened to aggravate the situation further.

Britain urged Moscow to cooperate in the case. "Russia should comply with our legal request," Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said.

However, the response from the Russian prosecutor-general's office appeared to rule out extradition.

"In line with article 61 of Russia's constitution, a Russian cannot be handed over to another state," spokeswoman Marina Gridneva told reporters.

But she said Lugovoi could be tried in Russia.

"At the same time, in line with the European convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal cases and Russian criminal law, a citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign country can be held criminally responsible ... but only on Russian territory," Gridneva said.

A lawmaker in Russia's upper house of parliament, meanwhile, said he doubted that Russian law prevented such extraditions, according to The Associated Press.

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, Yuri Sharandin, chairman of the Federation Council's constitutional legislation committee, said the European convention allowed for such extraditions, but also gives the country receiving the request the right to refuse.

Both Russia and Britain are signatories to the convention.

Lugovoi had met Litvinenko in London on November 1 at the Millennium Hotel bar, hours before the 43-year-old fell ill.

On Tuesday Russian media cited Lugovoi as saying the British murder charge against him was politically motivated.

"I consider this decision (by prosecutors) politically motivated," the state-owned Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lugovoi as saying.

"I did not kill Litvinenko, have nothing to do with his death and can prove with facts my distrust of the so-called evidence collected by Britain's justice system."

'Howl of protest'

Litvinenko, who had a 12-year-old son, released a deathbed statement blaming the Russian president for involvement in his poisoning -- an allegation the Kremlin denied.

Litvinenko said: "You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

"May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me, but to beloved Russia and its people."

Litvinenko's widow said Tuesday she hoped justice would now be done.

"I would like to thank the police and the CPS for all their hard work in investigating the murder of my husband," Marina Litvinenko said. She later met Russia's ambassador in London.

"I am now very anxious to see that justice is really done and that Mr. Lugovoi is extradited and brought to trial in a UK court," she said.

Lugovoi, a former security service agent but now a businessman, traveled to London three times in the month before Litvinenko's death and met him four times, Russian media reported.

Lugovoi and businessman Dmitry Kovtun told Russian media they went to London with a group of Moscow soccer fans and met Litvinenko briefly on November 1 to discuss business.

Later, they attended a football match between CSKA Moscow and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in north London, where polonium-210 was detected.

A trail of radiation was also detected at other locations in the city, prompting several buildings to be closed. Some British Airways flights were grounded over fears they might be contaminated.

Hundreds of people were tested by health officials for radiation. Seventeen people tested positive, but authorities said the risk to their health was low.

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko lies in bed in a London hospital shortly before his death.


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