The British Crown Prosecution Service announced today that it is seeking the extradition of Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi to face accusations that he murdered Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent who died last November after being poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic radioactive compound [see our story ” The First Assassination of the 21st Century,” from the June issue]. “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,” Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions, told reporters.

Litvinenko, a spy turned entrepreneur who rose to prominence as an ally of expatriate tycoon Boris Berezvosky during the free-market 1990s, emigrated to England and railed loudly and publicly against the increasing authoritarianism of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regime. Litvinenko fell ill after a November 1 meeting at the Millennium Hotel in central London with Lugovoi and possibly two other associates. He suffered a slow, agonizing death, and his murder was widely believed to be retribution, directly or indirectly, for his comments about the Kremlin.

Only hours after the British expatriation request, the Russian prosecutor-general said that it would not hand Lugovoi over to British officials but that it would consider using evidence collected by British investigators. “A citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state can be prosecuted with evidence provided by the foreign state,
but only on the territory of Russia,” said a spokeswoman, Marina Y. Gridneva, in a televised statement.

According to Russian news agencies, Lugovoi denies killing Litvinenko and said that he would soon make statements that would be “a sensation for public opinion in Britain.”

The poisoning highlights fears about Russia’s decommissioned chemical and radioactive weapons. Several international reports on the state of the former Soviet arsenal point up the dangers of poorly guarded or unguarded weapons and substances in the region.—Jake Ward

For more information, read “The First Assassination of the 21st Century”