Russia tracked spy's killers but Britain took over: US cable

12th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia claimed to have been tracking the assassins of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London before his death but said they were fobbed off by the British, a leaked US cable revealed Saturday.

The claims about the Kremlin critic, who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium in a London hotel in November 2006, were contained in a December 2006 memo from the US embassy in Paris to Washington.

The cable, leaked by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian, recounts "an amicable December 7 dinner" between US ambassador for counter-terrorism Henry Crumpton and Russian special presidential representative Anatoliy Safonov.

In what the cable said was one of several passing comments, "Safonov claimed that Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place".

The Guardian said it had questioned several people familiar with the case about Safonov's claim, and they said it was "implausible".

The Russian also implied that Moscow was not involved in the killing, according to the cable -- an assertion which matches Russia's public denials.

The cable notes Safonov expressed his appreciation for recent cooperative efforts between the United States and Russia and "he cited the recent events in London -- specifically the murder of a former Russian spy by exposure to radioactive agents -- as evidence of how great the threat remained and how much more there was to do on the cooperative front."

In a comment, the writer of the cable added: "The implication was that the FOR (Russian government) was not involved, although Safonov did not offer any further explanation."

A previously leaked US cable suggested that a senior US diplomat believed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin probably knew about the plot to kill Litvinenko, given the reach of his control and knowledge.

British police have accused ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi of the killing, but Russia has refused to extradite him and the case has severely strained ties between the two countries.

© 2010 AFP

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