British prosecutors will ask Russia to extradite businessman Andrei Lugovoi — once a member of the Russian security forces — to face a charge of murder in the poisoning death of former Soviet agent Alexander Litvinenko, officials said Tuesday.
“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,” the Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said.
Litvinenko, 43, died from polonium-210 poisoning in a London hospital Nov. 23, and on his deathbed accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind his killing. The Russian government denies involvement.
Lugovoi — who has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death — had met with Litvinenko in London on Nov. 1 at the Millennium Hotel bar, hours before Litvinenko said he felt ill.
British police had focused on the hotel as the likely place where Litvinenko was contaminated with polonoium-210.
Health officials said it was probably concealed in food or drink, and detectives ran extensive tests on a teacup, teapot and a dishwasher at the hotel.
The politically charged case has driven relations between London and Moscow to post-Cold War lows. The Russian Prosecutor General’s office has said Moscow would not extradite suspects to Britain if charges were filed against Russians.
Litvinenko was a vocal Kremlin critic who accused Russian authorities of being behind deadly 1999 apartment building bombings that stoked support for a renewed offensive against separatists in Chechnya.
Police in London and Moscow have launched parallel investigations, but so far no one has been arrested.
Litvinenko’s widow said that she hoped justice is done after prosecutors announced their charges. Speaking through her lawyer Louise Christian, Marina Litvinenko said she thanked police for their efforts in the case and hoped that Lugovoi would be extradited to Britain.
“She thanks the police but is anxious that justice is done,” Christian told The Associated Press by telephone.
British investigators had traveled to Moscow in December and sat in on the questioning of Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, another businessmen who, like Lugovoi, was in the Russian security services and who met with Litvinenko in London on Nov. 1.
In January, Lugovoi told The Associated Press that he had no role in Litvinenko’s death.
Lugovoi at the time said the allegations against him were “lies, provocation and government propaganda.”
Russia’s prosecutor general’s office has said Moscow would not allow the extradition of Lugovoi to Britain if he is charged in the British inquiry.