Russia names Litvinenko suspect as 'victim'
Russian investigators Wednesday said Britain's chief suspect in the 2006 poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko was himself the target of an assassination bid with the same radioactive substance.
In a surprise twist to the dispute between Moscow and London over the death of Litvinenko in London due to polonium poisoning, the findings of a probe by Russia's Investigative Committee said Andrei Lugovoi and his associate were also poisoned with the substance.
"Andrei Lugovoi has been acknowledged a victim in the criminal case on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko," the Investigative Committee, which probes high-profile crimes, said in a statement.
It said it had opened an investigation into the attempted murder of Lugovoi by "unidentified persons" using the highly radioactive isotope Polonium-210 that killed Litvinenko.
The committee said it had confirmed "the fact that Andrei Lugovoi was poisoned with Polonium-210 while meeting Alexander Litvinenko in London in October and November 2006."
Investigators said they were now probing as a single case Litvinenko's murder, Lugovoi's attempted murder and the attempted murder of Lugovoi's friend Dmitry Kovtun, who was one of the last to see Litvinenko before he fell ill.
Lugovoi backed the investigators' decision, saying he had always asserted he was a victim of crime.
"I've always said for five years that I'm the victim," he told Vesti FM radio station. "I undoubtedly suffered, as I said repeatedly at press conferences, both morally and physically."
Lugovoi, 45, a former FSB security agent who now represents the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia in parliament, denies any involvement in Litvinenko's death from radioactive poisoning in London in 2006.
Britain in 2007 said it had sufficient evidence to charge Lugovoi with Litvinenko's murder by poisoning and would seek his extradition, which Russia refused, saying he can only be tried in his own country.
British investigators said they found traces of polonium in a series of locations across London and on planes flying to and from Moscow.
Litvinenko, 43, also a former FSB officer, died in hospital a few days after drinking tea laced with polonium at a London luxury hotel in November 2006. Lugovoi and Kovtun had both met Litvinenko at the hotel bar.
Lugovoi said that he himself been poisoned by radiation and underwent treatment.
"In December 2006 I was examined and treated at a specialised clinic," he told Vesti FM. "If the doctors had not intervened in a timely way in this process, who knows how it might have ended."
In a deathbed letter, Litvinenko said he believed then-president Vladimir Putin was involved in his killing after he publicly criticised the strongman leader, an ex-KGB agent.
Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, gave an interview to the BBC Russian Service last month saying her late husband, who had become a British citizen, worked as a consultant on organised crime for British secret services.
The announcement on the eve of parliamentary elections defiantly ignores Britain's request to extradite Lugovoi, making clear once again that Russia will not back down on its refusal to accept the British view of the crime.
Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoi after the murder sparked tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and has long soured its relations with London.
The Litvinenko case "still poisons Russian-British relations and does not allow them to 'restart'" political correspondent of state news agency RIA Novosti, Andrei Fedyashin, wrote in a comment on its website.
"But it's not possible to step over the Litvinenko case. Whose fault is this? That is still the big question."
At a September meeting in Moscow, British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed neither side would budge, but Cameron said the countries should work round the issue in the interests of warmer relations.
© 2011 AFP