Accessibility links

Breaking News

Litvinenko's Family Says Public Inquiry 'Only Chance' To Solve Killing, Find Closure

Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in September 2004, two years before his death

After more than eight years battling for answers, the family of poisoned ex-KGB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko are pinning their hopes on a British public inquiry to finally shed light on his death.

The high-profile inquiry started in London on January 27 and will seek to elucidate the circumstances surrounding one of the most mysterious assassinations of the past decade.

Litvinenko, a vocal Kremlin critic who had been granted British citizenship, died in November 2006 after meeting with former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun in a London hotel.

The British authorities have already charged the pair with killing Litvinenko by lacing his tea with the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

"I never had any doubts that there would eventually be some sort of public inquiry," his widow, Marina Litvinenko, tells RFE/RL. "The only chance for everyone to find out what happened in London is to request all of the investigation's findings."

Political stakes are high and the public inquiry, which unlike a standard inquest allows for the hearing of secret evidence, is drawing international attention.

The inquiry's chairman, Robert Owen, has already cited a "prima facie case" indicating the involvement of Russian authorities in the poisoning.

"I never had any doubts that there would eventually be some sort of public inquiry," says Marina Litvinenko, shown here in London in July.
"I never had any doubts that there would eventually be some sort of public inquiry," says Marina Litvinenko, shown here in London in July.

The lawyer representing Litvinenko's family at the inquiry described his killing as "an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."

From his deathbed, Litvinenko himself accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his killing.

In 2013, Britain ruled out holding an inquiry on the grounds that it might further damage its relations with Russia, already badly frayed by the killing.

British Home Secretary Theresa May May eventually relented last summer after Litvinenko's widow appealed.

Marina Litvinenko says she has been demanding a full public inquiry for four years.

"We've been asking for it since 2011 because, five years after Sasha's death, we understood that nobody was willing to extradite the suspects from Russia," she says.

The most sensitive parts of the inquiry, however, will be held behind closed doors.

Owen said it is also "inevitable" that fragments of his final report will remain secret for security reasons.

Connections between Litvinenko and British intelligence -- he was on MI6's payroll when he died -- will not be examined by the inquiry.

It offers no guarantee, either, than the perpetrators will ever be brought to justice.

But for Marina and the couple's son, 20-year-old Anatoly, the priority now is letting the world find out the truth -- and personally finding the strength to move on.

"With the facts established, hopefully I can find some kind of closure," Anatoly Litvinenko wrote in the British daily The Guardian. "And the opportunity to look towards the future. And to focus on what's next, rather than trying to figure out what happened on that November afternoon almost a decade ago."

Anatoly Litvinenko wrote that he hopes the inquiry will also help him get a better understanding of his father, of "what Aleksander Litvinenko was like behind the scenes, beyond the press conferences and polonium."