23/07/2007

Russia critical of UK in Litvinenko row

Russia has criticised Britain's decision to expel four Russian diplomats in the row over the extradition of the main suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder, saying it was politically motivated.

Speaking at a press conference, Russia's deputy Prosecutor-General Alexander Zvyagintsev said that Britain's decision was "groundless, inappropriate, unjustified".

Referring to Britain's request for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted to stand trial in the UK for Mr Litvinenko's murder, Mr Zvyagintsev said that the extradition was refused on the "basis of law".

Under the European Convention on Extradition 1957, Russia has the right to refuse the extradition of a citizen.

Mr Zvyagintsev also said that the Russians had grounds to doubt the "objectivity" of the British justice system and said that there was "no evidence" provided by the UK to suggest that there had been an "objective investigation" of the Litvinenko case by the Metropolitan Police.

The Prosecutor-General also said that he would not rule out the involvement of people from "Litvinenko's closest London circle".

Last week, Britain announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats over Russia's refusal to extradite former KGB agent Mr Lugovoi to stand trial in the UK over Mr Litvineko's murder.

Mr Litvinenko, who was also a former KGB agent and a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in a London hospital on November 23 last year after falling ill earlier that month.

A large dose of radioactive substance polonium-210 was found in his body and the substance was also later found in a series of locations around the capital.

Prosecutors in Britain want Mr Lugovoi to stand trial in the UK for Mr Litvinenko's murder. He has denied any involvement.

Russia has offered to put Mr Lugovoi on trial, but the UK’s director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken MacDonald, has turned down this offer.

Last Thursday, Russia announced that it would expel four UK diplomats as the row escalated.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the government was "disappointed" that the Russians had not signified any new co-operation, adding that they regarded their decision to expel four staff as "completely unjustified".

(KMcA/SP)

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