Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Major diplomatic row looms between UK and Russia over extraditon of Litvinenko's Killer

Russian authorities rejected demands by Tony Blair last night to extradite from Russia, Andrei Lugovoi, the man accused of murdering the former security service agent Alexander Litvinenko in London last November.
Britain's Crown Prosecution service said police had gathered sufficient evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoi with murder and demanded that he be extradited to stand trial in Britain for an "extraordinarily grave" crime.
Russian authorities immediately rejected any possibility of extradion of Lugovoi:

In a swift response, Russia said there was no chance of Mr Lugovoi being sent to stand trial in Britain, and warned of a political backlash. Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor general's office, said: "Under Russian law, a citizen of the Russian Federation cannot be handed over to a foreign country."

The announcement from Number 10 Downing Street to seek extradition comes exactly 6 months after Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning in a London Hospital and marks a resolve of the British Government not to bend under economic and diplomatic pressure from Russia:

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Murder is murder - this is a very serious case. Nobody should be under any doubt as to the seriousness with which we are taking this case.

"Obviously we have political and economic connections with Russia, and Russia clearly plays an important role in international affairs.

"However, what that doesn't in any way obviate is the need for the international rule of law to be respected and we will not in any way shy away from trying to ensure that happens in a case such as this. That is the basis on which we proceed."

Prosecutors stopped short of any accusations against the Russian state, but officials in Moscow quickly made clear Lugovoi would not be handed over to face British justice.

That leaves the possibility of a show-trial in which Lugovoi may be used to shift the blame to enemies of the Kremlin.

On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being involved in his death. Litvinenko's widow, Marina, thanked the British police and made it clear yesterday she would not welcome a trial in Russia:

She said an extradition would be the clearest way for President Putin to prove there was no state involvement in the death of her husband.

Mrs Litvinenko had a 40-minute meeting with the Russian ambassador, Yuri Fedotov, and told him Russia's co-operation "would prove there wasn't state involvement".

Earlier, Mr Fedotov, had been called in to see Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary. Afterwards, Mrs Beckett said: "We expect full co-operation from the Russian authorities in bringing the perpetrator to face British justice."

The decision to seek the extradition of Lugovoi, a former member of the KGB, has been taken at the highest level and in full awareness of the row it would create.

What all this means is a prolonged diplomatic standoff between Russia and Britain as chances of handing over Lugovoi to Britain is highly unlikely because Lugovoi could give British authorities sensitive information that would potentially implicate Putin in the Murder or at least damage his political career seriously.
As for Tony Blair, this could be his Jihad for Legacy before leaving office as Prime Minister.

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