Litvinenko suspect a no-show at UK poisoning inquiry

28th July 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Russian wanted in Britain over the death of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko will not appear before an inquiry into his poisoning, the probe heard on Tuesday.

After several days of uncertainty, Dmitry Kovtun failed to give evidence via video link from Moscow to the inquiry at London's High Court by a 0800 GMT deadline set by its chairman.

Underlining his absence, the video link to Moscow was briefly activated, showing an empty chair.

"That would seem to make the situation crystal clear," Robin Tam, one of the inquiry's lawyers, told the court.

Kovtun and a second Russian, Andrei Lugovoi, are wanted by British police for allegedly poisoning Kremlin critic Litvinenko at London's Millennium Hotel on November 1, 2006 using tea laced with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

The inquiry is a source of tension in British-Russian relations, along with the conflict in Ukraine, last year's downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine and repeated cases of Russian military aircraft flying close to British airspace.

"This unhappy sequence of events drives me to the conclusion either that Mr Kovtun never in truth intended to give evidence and that this has been a charade," Robert Owen, the judge chairing the inquiry, told the court.

"Alternatively, if he has at some stage been genuine in his expressed intention to give evidence, obstacles have been put in the way of his doing so."

- 'Daddy, Putin has poisoned me' -

The businessman said he would be committing an offence under Russian law if he testified unless he secured permission from authorities in Moscow.

The inquiry received the first indication late Thursday that Kovtun may not give evidence but gave him time over the weekend to change his mind.

"I will not be able to give testimony today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," Kovtun told Russia's Interfax news agency on Monday.

Kovtun has already denied murdering Litvinenko and claimed he accidentally poisoned himself.

In a letter to the inquiry dated May 12, Kovtun described Litvinenko as having "mental health problems, a person driven to despair who was prepared to do anything to achieve his financial goals."

Kovtun said he and Lugovoi met Litvinenko, who he suggested was working for British intelligence, at the hotel on the day of his alleged poisoning "completely by chance".

The hearing also heard evidence given to Italian police by Litvinenko's father Valter.

He initially blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his son's death, saying his son told him from his hospital bed: "Daddy, Putin has poisoned me."

However, Valter Litvinenko later reversed this claim, saying: "Now I am talking well about Putin."

The Litvinenko inquiry started its hearings in January and is due this week for final submissions from the main parties involved.

It is due to report by the end of the year.

kah/dt/ser


© 2015 AFP

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