LONDON – Britain refused to hold a public inquiry into the lethal poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in part because of fears that it could damage ties with Russia, according to a letter published Friday.
In a letter to the coroner investigating the 2006 death of the former spy, Home Secretary Theresa May explained that “international relations” were an issue in her decision, although they were not decisive.
Coroner Robert Owen had sought a full public inquiry after complaining that his own, lower-level inquest was hamstrung as he was not allowed to review secret evidence about possible Kremlin involvement in the murder.
Litvinenko, an ex-agent of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London hotel.
His widow claimed he was working for Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency at the time of his death, and that he was killed on Moscow’s orders. The murder froze ties between Russia and Britain, but London has been trying to improve the bilateral relationship in recent years.
“It is true that international relations have been a factor in the government’s decision-making,” May wrote in the letter.