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UK will establish independent inquiry into death of ex-KGB agent Litvinenko

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Story highlights

  • The inquiry into Litvinenko's death will be independent from the the government's inquiry
  • Sir Robert Owen will chair the inquiry
  • Litvinenko, who moved to Britain after becoming whistle-blower, was poisoned in 2006
  • Before dying, he blamed Russian president; Russia denies accusation

The UK Home Office will hold an independent public inquiry into the 2006 death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, it announced Tuesday.

The Home Office said this inquiry will be independent from an ongoing government inquest.

Litvinenko's widow has been pressing for a public inquiry in addition to a basic inquest -- a coroner-led investigation that is held as a matter of course in the case of unnatural deaths in England, where Litvinenko died after being poisoned.

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Sir Robert Owen will chair the inquiry. He is the coroner for the government inquest.

"It is more than seven years since Mr Litvinenko's death and this government remains committed to seeking justice for his family," a Home Office statement said. "It is hoped this inquiry will go some way to achieve this goal."

A public inquiry, unlike an inquest, can receive evidence behind closed doors. In Litvinenko's case, such evidence could involve matters of national security, and his widow, Marina Litvinenko, has argued that a public inquiry would enable the fullest possible investigation.

In a deathbed statement, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, an accusation the Kremlin has strongly denied.

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Marina Litvinenko told CNN on July 11 that "everybody is down, because we didn't expect this."

She said that with the coroner's backing, she pressed for the public inquiry "when we realized that the coroner isn't able to prove the Russian state's involvement in what happened."

She called for a judicial review of the government's decision.

"I believe that we will find the truth, because I believe that British law can work," she said.

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent and fierce critic of Putin, came to Britain in 2000 after turning whistle-blower on the FSB, the KGB's successor.

He died at a London hospital on November 23, 2006, after being poisoned by the radioactive material polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.

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