Russian man denies poisoning


MOSCOW (AP) – The man reported by British media to be a suspect in the murder of a former Russian agent in London hit out Saturday at “lies, provocation and government propaganda,” denying any role in the radiation poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Andrei Lugovoi told The Associated Press that he viewed the reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Sky News that he is a suspect in the murder as an attempt by the British authorities to make up for the lack of evidence against him.

“This is all lies, provocation and government propaganda by the United Kingdom,” he said. “They are trying to make up for their weak hand.”

Sky News reported Friday that British prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to charge Lugovoi.

Investigators have identified the teapot believed to have contained the radioactive tea, which eventually killed Litvinenko in November, Sky News said, citing unnamed Scotland Yard officials. ABC News had a similar report, citing an unidentified official.

The reports cap a week of media speculation on the direction of the British investigation into the death. The Guardian newspaper also reported Friday that police were focusing on Lugovoi and had sufficient evidence for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against him, citing unnamed government officials.

Scotland Yard’s investigation has centered on Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, two Russian ex-KGB officers who were present at the Millennium Hotel in central London when Litvinenko fell ill on Nov. 1 after contamination from a rare, radioactive substance.

ABC News said the teapot, found at the Millennium Hotel, remained in use for several weeks after the poisoning, adding that its radiation readings were extremely high.

Of the 13 people who tested positive for contamination with Polonium-210 since Litvinenko was poisoned, eight worked at the hotel. Two others who tested positive for the rare radioactive material also visited the hotel’s bar.

Litvinenko, 43, died on Nov. 23. The former KGB agent fled to Britain after leaving Russia and was granted asylum. In exile, he became a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him in a deathbed statement of masterminding his death.

Russian officials have denied any involvement in his murder. The politically-charged case has driven relations between London and Moscow to post-Cold War lows.

In a reminder of the tensions, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office on Saturday reaffirmed that Russia would not extradite Lugovoi to Britain.

“A Russian citizen cannot be extradited to another country under the Russian Constitution,” Natalia Fyodorova, a spokeswoman for Prosecutor-General’s office, told the AP.

She added that Russia would not put him on trial itself if Britain filed charges against Lugovoi, only if the Russian investigators looking into Litvinenko’s murder decided to prosecute him.

AP-ES-01-27-07 0800EST