UK: No expanded investigation in death of ex-KGB agent Litvinenko

Russian ex-spy and fierce Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko is shown in London in September 2004.

Story highlights

  • UK officials will tell coroner in writing next week why they said no
  • "Everybody is down, because we didn't expect this," says widow of former KGB spy
  • Litvinenko, who moved to Britain after becoming whistle-blower, was poisoned in 2006
  • Before dying, he blamed Russian president; Russia denies accusation

The British government has rejected requests to hold a public inquiry into the 2006 death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, a spokesman for the coroner's inquest said Friday.

Litvinenko's widow has been pressing for a public inquiry in addition to a basic inquest -- a coroner-led investigation that is held as a matter of course in the case of unnatural deaths in England, where Litvinenko died after being poisoned.

UK officials will apprise Coroner Sir Robert Owen in writing early next week of why the public inquiry was rejected, according to a transcript of a hearing held Friday in the matter.

A public inquiry, unlike an inquest, can receive evidence behind closed doors. In Litvinenko's case, such evidence could involve matters of national security, and his widow, Marina Litvinenko, had argued that a public inquiry would enable the fullest possible investigation.

In a deathbed statement, Alexander Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, an accusation the Kremlin has strongly denied.

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Marina Litvinenko told CNN on Friday that "everybody is down, because we didn't expect this."

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She said that with the coroner's backing, she pressed for the public inquiry "when we realized that the coroner isn't able to prove the Russian state's involvement in what happened."

She called for a judicial review of the government's decision.

"I believe that we will find the truth, because I believe that British law can work," she said.

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent and fierce critic of Putin, came to Britain in 2000 after turning whistle-blower on the FSB, the KGB's successor.

He died at a London hospital on November 23, 2006, after being poisoned by the radioactive material polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.