UPDATE 1-Putin probably approved London murder of Litvinenko - British inquiry

Thu Jan 21, 2016 10:05am GMT
 

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By Michael Holden

LONDON Jan 21 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin probably approved a Russian intelligence operation to murder ex-KBG agent Alexander Litvinenko, a judge led-British inquiry into the 2006 killing in London concluded.

Litvinenko, 43, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia, died after drinking green tea laced with the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210 at London's plush Millennium Hotel.

An inquiry led by senior judge Robert Owen found that former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy and fellow Russian Dmitry Kovtun carried out the poisoning as part of an operation directed by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the main heir to the Soviet-era KGB.

"Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me, I find that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin," the inquiry said.

Nikolai Patrushev was formerly head of the FSB.

"I am satisfied that in general terms members of the Putin administration, including the President himself and the FSB, had motives for taking action against Mr Litvinenko, including killing him in late 2006," the inquiry said.

The Kremlin has always denied any involvement. From his deathbed, Litvinenko told detectives Putin had directly ordered his killing.

The death of Litvinenko marked a post-Cold War low point in Anglo-Russian relations, and ties have never recovered, marred further by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Both Lugovoy and Kovtun have previously denied involvement and Russia has refused to extradite them. Lugovoy was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the accusation was absurd. (Reporting by Michael Holden; writing by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)