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Russians join spy death inquiry

Emigres in Britain fear the investigation could give Russian authorities a pretext to harass them.

Published December 10, 2006


LONDON - Russian dissidents close to Alexander Litvinenko said Saturday they were worried about coming face to face with Moscow investigators who plan to visit London over the ex-Soviet spy's death from radiation poisoning.

Litvinenko, 43, issued a deathbed statement blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death, an accusation the Kremlin has vehemently denied.

In her first public comments since his death, Litvinenko's widow was quoted by the Mail on Sunday newspaper as saying she did not believe Putin was personally responsible for the poisoning of her husband, who had become a British citizen this year.

"Obviously it was not Putin himself, of course not," Marina Litvinenko said. "But what Putin does around him in Russia makes it possible to kill a British person on British soil. I believe that it could have been the Russian authorities."

Police in Germany, meanwhile, said traces of radiation were found at two Hamburg-area homes linked to a contact of the former ex-KGB officer, while police combed a London hotel at the center of the investigation into his death.

A spokeswoman for Russia's Prosecutor General's Office told the Associated Press about the plans to send Russian investigators to London, but said there was no concrete date.

Some emigres were concerned that the Kremlin would use its inquiries as a "pretext to harass exiles in London," said Andrei Nekrasov, a friend of Litvinenko's.

He said former Russian security officer Mikhail Trepashkin, who is serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted of divulging state secrets, had said a Kremlin agent previously ordered to monitor Litvinenko was among those appointed to investigate the killing.

British police said they had no details of the visit by Russian investigators, and it was not immediately clear whether they would be given access to exiles granted political asylum by the British government.

German police said Saturday they found traces of radiation at two Hamburg area homes linked to Dmitry Kovtun, a Russian businessman who was at a London hotel gathering that included Litvinenko. Traces were found at the Hamburg apartment of Kovtun's ex-wife, and an initial scan yielded contamination at his former mother-in-law's home in Haselau, west of the port city.

Investigations in Britain have focused on the Pine Bar at London's Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, where Litvinenko held a morning meeting over tea and gin with three fellow Russians on Nov. 1 - the day he fell ill.

Litvinenko met with Kovtun; Andrei Lugovoi, also an ex-Soviet agent; and Vyacheslav Sokolenko, head of a private Russian security firm. All three men have denied involvement in the ex-spy's death.

[Last modified December 10, 2006, 01:18:10]

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