26 February 2013, 16:32

Inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko: government makes secrecy request

Inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko: government makes secrecy request

A coroner is to hear an application by the government to keep some information secret at the forthcoming inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

The former Russian security service officer was poisoned by radioactive polonium in London in 2006.

Tuesday's hearing will consider an application for a broad Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate.

It is expected to be opposed by lawyers for Mr Litvinenko's widow as well as media organisations, including the BBC.

The PII certificate would exclude some information from the inquest when it opens later this year.

They are usually issued on the grounds of national security.

At an earlier pre-inquest hearing the lawyer for Mr Litvinenko's widow said the Russian had been a paid agent of MI6 and argued the inquest should examine the secret service's relationship with him. 

Sir Robert Owen, a judge acting as the coroner, has said he would examine what was known of threats to Mr Litvinenko's life and also whether the Russian state was responsible for his death. 

He has also agreed that a group representing Russian state prosecutors can be accepted as a party to the inquest process. 

A legal review, ahead of the inquest, has heard that Mr Litvinenko was working alongside Spanish spies for MI6 in the days before his death. 

British government documents that implied Russia was behind the 43-year old's murder were also revealed.

Moscow has previously denied any involvement in Mr Litvinenko's death.

The inquest is due to begin on 1 May.

Mr Litvinenko died in November 2006 after ingesting the polonium-210 isotope, allegedly during a meeting at the Millennium Hotel in central London with ex-KGB contacts Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.

Russia has refused to extradite main suspect Mr Lugovoi to the UK for questioning.

Neil Garnham, representing the Home Office, told the review he could "neither confirm nor deny" whether Mr Litvinenko was employed by British intelligence.

The Kremlin has indicated it would like to become an interested party in the inquest, which would allow representatives of the Russian state to cross-examine witnesses and examine evidence. 

Next Litvinenko case hearing set before Easter 

UK’s High Court judge Sir Robert Owen has said the next hearing in Litvinenko case will take place before Easter.

He said the hearing will set up the schedule of the coroner's investigation that will look into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko who was allegedly murdered in November 2006.

The hearing will reportedly make known the start date in the police inquiry.

Media move against classifying Litvinenko inquest

The Guardian, the BBC, the Financial Times and several other media have vowed to challenge the UK William Hague’s move to conceal sensitive data in the case of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 of polonium poisoning.

Media have described the initiative of the UK Foreign Office to classify parts of information due to be unveiled in the case as “deeply troubling.” It is rumoured that the evidence has to do with Litvineko’s being a “paid spy” with UK’s MI6 and Spanish secret services.

In November 2006, the renegade Russian spy met with two Russian officers, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, and allegedly ingested the polonium-210 isotope that could have led to his death several days after.

The British government has refused to say what evidence it wanted to hide. The media groups will reportedly try to persuade the coroner tackling the Litvinenko case that the government has failed to explain what "harm" the release of the evidence might cause.

They argue that Hague's attempt to withhold evidence can potentially undermine public confidence in the inquest.

Voice of Russia, TASS, Guardian, BBC

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