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British Litvinenko detectives start work in Moscow

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Dec 5 (Reuters) British detectives began work in Moscow today as part of a politically-sensitive investigation into the poisoning of dissident Russian former spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Russia has said it will offer all cooperation necessary to the group of Scotland Yard detectives but it is angry too at suggestions that the trail from Litvinenko's death in London from a lethal dose of radiation will lead to the Kremlin.

Russia's prison service said it would not let the British detectives speak to Mikhail Trepashkin, a former intelligence officer jailed for the last three for divulging state secrets.

''Russia's prison service will not allow somebody sentenced for disclosing state secrets to continue to be a source of information for representatives of the special services of foreign states,'' Alexander Sidorov, a spokesman for the service, was quoted as saying.

Figures in London's Russian emigre community linked to millionaire Boris Berezovsky, a Putin oppnent, say Trepashkin has information that could help with the Litvinenko inquiry. British police have not said whom they hope to interview.

''They (the detectives) are starting work today and they will stay until their enquiries are completed,'' said a spokesman for the British embassy in Moscow.'' He added: ''We are not going to comment on the details of the investigation.'' Litvinenko, a former officer in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) who became an implacable critic of President Vladimir Putin, died on November 23 from a lethal dose of radioactive polonium 210.

In a statement Litvinenko's associates said he wrote on his death-bed, he accused Putin of ordering his assassination.

Putin dismissed the allegation. His Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday it was ''unacceptable'' to link Putin to Litvinenko's death and said it was damaging relations between Moscow and London.

Some security analysts have said it is highly unlikely Putin was involved but that Litvinenko's killing could have been the work of rogue elements inside his security apparatus.

Four British detectives -- three men and a woman -- were seen arriving at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport yesterday night where they were met by embassy officials. They made no comment.

Their luggage included several large plastic boxes and black plastic briefcases, each of which was labelled.

They were likely to try to interview Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, two Russian citizens who met Litvinenko at London's Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1, the day he fell ill.

KEY WITNESS IN HOSPITAL? Lugovoy, a businessman, has denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death and said he will help in any investigation.

But Lugovoy may not be available to speak to the British detectives because he is in hospital undergoing a second test for polonium 210 in his body, Kommersant newspaper quoted his lawyer as saying.

The discovery of the radiocative substance in Litvinenko's body, and in locations he visited around London, has prompted a public health scare in Britain with hundreds of people coming forward for testing.

A sushi bar where Litvinenko ate has been tested, as well as several passenger jets. Radiation experts will test a room in the British embassy in Moscow this week as a ''precaution'', the foreign ministry in London said.

A former head of Russia's atomic energy agency described the health scare as ''hysteria.'' ''All these theories about sushi bars and aircraft are complete nonsense,'' Yevgeny Adamov said in an interview in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

''I could find it (polonium 210) in other aircraft , in trains, in a loaf of bread -- anywhere you care to mention, because it exists naturally,'' said Adamov, who is wanted in the United States on charges of embezzling aid cash.

REUTERS PDM BS1529

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