A long-awaited public inquiry into the death of poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko is finally set to open today, more than eight years after his death.
Inquiry chairman Robert Owen will open the proceedings at Britain's Royal Courts of Justice following years of conspiracy theories, allegations of state murder and legal wrangling.
Mr Litvinenko died in November 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 while meeting two Russian men – one a former KGB officer – at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square.
His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.
Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph reported that American spies secretly intercepted communications between those involved in the murder of Mr Litvinenko and provided the key evidence that he was killed in a Russian-backed “state execution”.
The National Security Agency obtained electronic communications between key individuals in London and Moscow from the time that the former spy was poisoned with radioactive material in central London, which was passed to the British authorities, the Daily Telegraph claimed.
In addition, the newspaper claimed Scotland Yard’s attempts to bring a key witness to the inquiry – Mario Scaramella, who met Mr Litvinenko on the day he was poisoned – are being “frustrated” by the Italian authorities.
Former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects in the killing, but both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.
Inquiry chairman Robert Owen previously said that alleged Russian state responsibility in the 43-year-old’s death was of ”central importance to my investigation”.
But the Russian government has refused to take part in the inquiry as it does not agree with powers granted in public inquiries that allow evidence to be held in closed session but still inform the findings.
Widow Marina Litvinenko fought for the inquiry into her husband’s murder after Owen said he could not hold a ”fair and fearless” investigation as part of an inquest, and a public inquiry should take place instead.
She told the Times: “I want to show all the evidence from the police investigation – from other evidence from statements and everything – which will conclude where the polonium came from and that because these Russian people definitely did it: Lugovoi and Kovtun.
“Sasha (Alexander) was not an enemy of the Russian state but he was an enemy of ... people, in particular Mr Putin and some people around him. Maybe it (the killing) was not a direct order from Putin but he is (responsible for this).”
The British government previously resisted launching an inquiry, instead saying it would ”wait and see” what a judge-led inquest found, but the High Court there ruled the Home Secretary should reconsider the decision.
Although Mrs Litvinenko and her lawyers will not be able to see secret material, the chairman can take it into account, unlike in an inquest.