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‘A strong prima facie case’ European Court finds Russia responsible for assassination of Alexander Litvinenko

Matt Dunham / AP / Scanpix

Russia was responsible for the poisoning and assassination of ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday, September 21. Litvinenko fled Russia with his family and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2001. He died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006. Ten years later, a public inquiry in the UK concluded that Litvinenko was murdered by two of his acquaintances: former Russian Secret Service officer Andrey Lugovoy — who is now a State Duma lawmaker — and businessman Dmitry Kovtun. Both the suspects, as well a the Russian authorities, have consistently denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s killing. 

On September 21, the European Court handed down its judgement in the case brought against Russia by Alexander Litvinenko’s widow, Marina.

The ECHR found Russia responsible for Litvinenko’s 2006 poisoning and assassination, ruling that the Russian government violated Article 2 of the European Convention (right to life).

“The Court found in particular that there was a strong prima facie case that, in poisoning Mr. Litvinenko, Mr. Lugovoy and Mr. Kovtun had been acting as agents of the Russian State. It noted that the Government had failed to provide any other satisfactory and convincing explanation of the events or counter the findings of the UK inquiry.

The European Court also declared that the Russian authorities had failed to carry out “an effective domestic investigation capable of leading to the establishment of the facts and, where appropriate, the identification and punishment of those responsible for the murder.”

The Chamber judgement was made by six votes to one. Judge Dmitry Dedov (Russia) expressed a partly dissenting opinion, which called into question the conclusions of the British inquiry into Litvinenko’s murder: 

“I am not sure that those findings have been made beyond reasonable doubt. I found many deficiencies in the analysis by the British inquiry and by the Court which raise reasonable doubts as to the involvement of the suspects in the poisoning and whether they were acting as agents of the [Russian] State.”

The ECHR also said that Russia should pay Marina Litvinenko 122,500 euros (about $144,000) in costs and other damages.

Following the judgement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Tuesday that the Russian authorities “aren’t prepared to listen to such rulings.”

“It’s unlikely that the ECHR has any powers or technological capabilities to have information in this regard. You know that there are still no results of this investigation, so to make such statements is, well, unfounded to say the least,” Peskov maintained.

In turn, State Duma lawmaker Andrey Lugovoy dismissed the ECHR’s judgement, describing it as “most idiotic” and “absolutely politically motivated.”

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