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Russia clears way for Moscow trip by UK police

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Dec 4 (Reuters) Russia today cleared the way for British detectives probing the mystery poisoning of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko to visit Moscow, and promised to help their investigation.

Friends of Litvinenko, who died from radioactive poisoning from polonium 210, said meanwhile that the British investigators should insist while in Russia on seeing another ex-KGB agent, now in jail, who had ''substantive information'' of use to them.

Nine British detectives might fly to Moscow as early as Monday, police in London said, to speak to witnesses who met Litvinenko before his death.

Before he died, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his slow and agonising death, which sparked a health scare in Britain and strained London's relations with Moscow.

The Kremlin has denied any part in the death of the former Russian state security service agent who became one of Putin's sharpest critics in the London-based Russian emigre community.

The foreign ministry in Moscow confirmed today that visas has been issued to Scotland Yard investigators and the Russia's general prosecutor's office offered to cooperate.

''The general prosecutor of the Russian Federation has expressed readiness to provide all necessary help to British colleagues within the framework of international agreements and the law of the Russian Federation,'' the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

A group of Scotland Yard anti-terrorist investigators were expected in Moscow soon, it said.

While Litvinenko blamed Putin for his death, other theories have centred on the possible involvement of rogue Russian agents, acting independently of the Kremlin.

Litvinenko met Russian citizens at London's Millennium Hotel on November 1, the day he fell ill.

Andrei Lugovoy, also a former KGB agent, agrees he and businessman Dmitry Kovtun met Litvinenko that day at the hotel.

But Lugovoy, now back in Moscow, says they discussed a business opportunity and he denies anything to do with an attempt on Litvinenko's life.

FRIENDS URGE UK POLICE Associates of Litvinenko, meanwhile, urged the British detectives to contact another former Russian intelligence officer, Mikhail Trepashkin, while in Russia.

Trepashkin, now serving a four-year sentence in an Urals prison for divulging state secrets, alleged in a letter last Friday that the FSB Russian state security service had created a hit squad to kill Litvinenko and other enemies of the Kremlin.

''Mr Trepashkin has substantive information that might be of interest to investigators and his lawyers are prepared to facilitate contact with him,'' Litvinenko's friend, Alex Goldfarb, told Reuters by telephone from New York.

Goldfarb said Trepashkin was in poor health, adding ''this could be the only opportunity that the British authorities have to speak to him''.

In Brussels, British Home Secretary (interior minister) John Reid said the police investigation would push forward irrespective of whatever diplomatic fall-out there might be.

''Police will issue their own bulletin, but they will be going to Russia,'' he told journalists after arriving for a meeting of European Union justice and home affairs ministers.

''This investigation will proceed as normal whatever the diplomatic or whatever the wider considerations,'' he said.

Reid said he would seek to reassure his EU colleagues that the health threat arising from traces of polonium 210 found in several locations in London was minimal.


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