A public inquiry into the killing of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko opens with the coroner saying the issues surrounding his death are of the ''utmost gravity''. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
A long-awaited public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko begins. This comes eight years after the former KGB spy died after drinking tea poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in London. He died three weeks later. Russia has always denied any involvement, but Coroner Robert Owen has said there is "prima facie" evidence of Russian culpability. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CORONER, ROBERT OWEN, SAYING: "The issues to which his death gives rise are of the utmost gravity and have attracted worldwide interest and concern." From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder. British officials also say there is evidence to charge two ex-KGB agents with murder. Lawyer for the inquiry Robert Tam testified that Litvinenko tried to protect Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who was living in London and helping him financially. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LAWYER FOR THE INQUIRY, ROBERT TAN, SAYING: "There is evidence that in 1997 Mr. Litvinenko's unit was given orders to kill Mr. Berezovsky which Mr. Litvinenko believed to be improper orders. Mr. Litvinenko warned Mr. Berezovsky and tried to report the matter to the senior leadership of the FSB. This included a meeting in July 1998 between Mr. Litvinenko and the head of the FSB, who had then been newly appointed. Sir, that man was one Vladimir Putin." Britain rejected holding an inquiry in 2013, but with relations with Russia now strained, the British government gave the go-ahead for the inquiry.