LONDON (AP) – The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday backed the conclusion of a British inquiry that Russia was responsible for the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with a radioactive material.
A former agent for the KGB spy agency and its post-Soviet successor agency FSB, Litvinenko defected from Russia in 2000 and fled to London. While in Britain, Litvinenko became involved in exposing corruption and links to organized crime in the Russian intelligence service.
He fell violently ill on Nov. 1, 2006, after drinking tea with two Russian men at a London hotel, and spent three weeks in the hospital before he died. His tea was found to have been laced with radioactive polonium-210.
The British inquiry concluded in early 2016 that Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun had killed Litvinenko, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “probably approved” the operation. Both Lugovoi and Kovtun have denied any involvement in the killing.
Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, took the case to the Strasbourg-based court, vowing to get justice for her husband. Both Britain and Russia are members of the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 to uphold human rights on the continent in the aftermath of World War II. One of its main responsibilities is to oversee the work of the European Court of Human Rights, which seeks to uphold the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Court found in particular that there was a strong prima facie case that, in poisoning Mr. Litvinenko, Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Kovtun had been acting as agents of the Russian State,” it said in its judgment.
It also noted that the Russian government had “failed to provide any other satisfactory and convincing explanation of the events or counter the findings of the U.K. inquiry.”
The European court rejected Marina Litvinenko’s claim for “punitive” damages, though it did order Russia to pay her 100,000 euros ($117,000) in damages and 22,500 euros ($26,400) in costs.
Marina Litvinenko welcomed the court’s ruling that the Russian state was responsible for her husband’s death and said it highlighted the “undemocratic regime” in Moscow.
“This case helps other people not give up and try to change what might happen in Russia. One day Russia (could) become a better country to everybody,” she told Sky News.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed aside Tuesday’s court judgment.
“We’re not ready to take such rulings on board,” he told reporters.
Lugovoi, who is now a lawmaker in the Russian parliament, called the ruling “idiotic” and said it undermined the reputation of the court.
“After such a ruling, such an institution as the European Court simply does not exist for me,” he told the Govorit Moskva radio station. “I believe this is absolutely politically biased ruling that has nothing to do with lawfulness.”