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UK prepares papers on KGB agent

Story Highlights

• UK seeking to prosecute ex-KGB spy prepare formal extradition request
• Andrei Lugovoi 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 Kremlin denied
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British officials seeking to prosecute a former KGB agent for the murder of an outspoken Kremlin critic were on Wednesday preparing a formal extradition request that Russia has already said it will reject.

Andrei Lugovoi is accused of killing former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was allegedly poisoned with a radioactive substance during a meeting with Lugovoi in London.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's office urged international law to be respected. Russia though said its law prohibiting the extradition of its nationals ruled out the transfer of Lugovoi to London.

"An extradition request will be drawn up and it will be forwarded to the Russian government by our embassy in Moscow," a Foreign Office spokesman told The Associated Press.

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 is believed to have been 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. But 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 AP.

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, who met Litvinenko on November 1 at London's Millennium Hotel, hours before the 43-year-old fell ill, continues to protest his innocence, saying detectives have "no evidence" and should search for their culprit in London rather than Moscow.

In a defiant interview with Channel 4 News on Tuesday, he responded to a question about whether he would be extradited saying: "You know, I think not. Because, firstly, I am a Russian citizen, and second, why would they extradite me? For what I did not do?

"Let the respected lords, mayors, peers, send me all the documents you have collected here to Moscow. We have people here who will look at them, including me and my lawyers."

'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.


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