LONDON – The British government set up a judicial inquiry Tuesday on the strange death eight years ago of former KGB officer and Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who authorities believe was slipped a lethal dose of radioactive polonium in his tea at a London hotel, possibly at the behest of the Kremlin.
The apparent assassination of Litvinenko, 43, in 2006 shocked Britain and led to a deep chill in its relationship with Russia. No one has claimed responsibility for his death.
An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Litvinenko was living in Britain and had just become a British citizen when he met two Russians, one a former KGB agent, for a drink in November 2006. A few days afterward, he began vomiting and went to a hospital.
He suffered an agonizing death weeks later, apparently from the effects of radiation poisoning. Traces of polonium, a highly radioactive substance, were found in the hotel, at a sushi bar Litvinenko had visited and at other locations across London.
Investigators named a Putin supporter, Andrei Lugovoi, as one of the prime suspects in Litvinenko’s death and asked that he be extradited from Russia. Moscow refused. Lugovoi is now a member of the Russian parliament.
Britain’s decision to open a public investigation led by a senior judge came after a separate official inquest on Litvinenko’s death collapsed. The judge in those proceedings said that the inquest was not equipped to deal with potential issues of national security.
In Russia, Lugovoi called the British government’s decision to open an inquiry “the height of cynicism,” according to the Interfax news agency.