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Inquiry into death of ex-Russian agent Litvinenko opens in London

Britain opened an inquiry Thursday into the death of former Russian intelligence officer Aleksandr Litvinenko. It comes eight years after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

The inquiry has been formally opened by Sir Robert Owen, a high court judge and the current coroner in the inquest into Litvinenko's death, who announced that he would start taking evidence in January 2015.

The timing for bringing Litvinenko’s case back to public attention looks suspicious to the ex-spy’s brother, who shared his views in an interview with RT.

This case became a big PR campaign against the Russian government and its president in particular,” Maksim Litvinenko said. “The West is pressuring Russia very hard now. The MH-17 crash, Crimea, the war in Ukraine, sanctions against Moscow and now this inquiry – I'm not buying that this is a coincidence.”

The widow of the poisoned spy holds a different view. It’s better later than never for Marina Litvinenko, who is ready to wait for as long as it takes to solve the mystery of her husband’s poisoning.

"I'm very pleased to receive this decision about the public inquiry,” Marina Litvinenko commented immediately after the decision was announced earlier in July. “And I know it's another long time to wait and more months and years, but finally we will receive the truth."

Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service officer who fled Russia and made the British capital his new home, died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with a rare radioactive isotope, Polonium-210. On his deathbed in hospital he alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind his death. The Kremlin categorically denies the allegations.

The essential question inquiry seeks to answer: was the Russian government involved. Marina Litvinenko told me she's pleased its starting.

— Polly Boiko (@Polly_Boiko) July 31, 2014

The main twist to this case came in 2012 after revelations by Marina Litvinenko’s lawyer that the former Russian spy was allegedly working for Britain’s MI6, as well as for the Spanish security services.

Now Litvinenko’s brother believes Western intelligence could be implicated in his radioactive poisoning. The former Russian spy was jobless before he died and was trying to look for opportunities back home.

His plans to return to Russia could displease his former bosses in the West,” Maksim Litvinenko told RT. “It’s possible to assume that Western intelligence could be behind this.”

Litvinenko’s widow has dismissed her brother-in-law’s allegations as “lies” and, according to the Daily Mail, accused him of echoing the views of the Kremlin.

Both Maksim and Marina Litvinenko insist that all they want from the inquiry is to reveal the truth.

The Litvinenko investigation

May 2007 - British prosecutors accuse Litvinenko’s former colleagues Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun of poisoning him with polonium-laced tea. Both deny any involvement.
Jul 2007 - Russia refuses to extradite Lugovoy and Kovtun, saying that the Russian constitution doesn’t allow the extradition of its citizens
May-June 2013 – The British inquest is delayed, as the coroner decides a public inquiry will be better
July 2013 – The British government blocks a request for an open inquiry
Feb 2014 – The High Court supports the idea of an inquiry
July 2014 – The public inquiry is announced

"I do this not against Russia, not England, I do this for justice, I do this for truth," Marina says.

First of all I want to hear the truth, because so far we’ve only had articles, interviews, information we got from the media,” Maksim says. “We have not seen a single official document which would state the cause of the death.”

Litvinenko’s relatives hope that a public inquiry will allow secret, sensitive government material to be examined and brought to light.

That might not necessarily happen though, as parts of Aleksandr Litvinenko inquiry will be heard in secret, according to coroner Sir Robert Owen, the Guardian reported. He also revealed that sections of his final conclusion would also be withheld due the documents’ sensitivity.

Commenting on the opening of the public inquiry, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Aleksandr Yakovenko, said last week that British authorities should provide the evidence they possess, and that Russia would not accept any judgment reached in a secret court.