The lawyer for the family of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006, accused Britain and Russia today of colluding to try and shut down an inquiry into his death for the sake of trade links.
Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship and become a vocal critic of the Kremlin, died after someone slipped polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope, into his cup of tea at a London hotel. The fallout from his death has beleaguered diplomatic relations between London and Moscow ever since.
At a pre-inquest hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice, Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for Litvinenko's wife, said a legal attempt by the British government to keep some information about the death confidential was part of a cover up.
Mr Emmerson said the British government's application for a public interest immunity order, which would prevent material being disclosed in open court, was to protect business deals being struck by prime minister David Cameron and the Kremlin.
He said the coroner in the planned inquest, high court judge Robert Owen, should reject the government's application.
"It is crucial, absolutely crucial, that the outcome of this hearing is to scotch once and for all ... (speculation) David Cameron is so interested in promoting trade with Russia that he's trying to close down this inquest".
Mr Litvinenko's widow also expressed dismay that the inquest into his death may be further delayed.
The inquiry into his murder was due to start in London in May but may not proceed as planned owing to the complexity of the investigation which must conclude ahead of the inquest’s formal opening.
Mr Emmerson QC, representing Marina Litvinenko, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the possible setback.
It came after Coroner Sir Robert Owen raised concerns at a pre-inquest review that an opening on May 1st could be impossible.
He said: “I am becoming increasingly concerned that due to the complexity of the investigation which necessarily precedes the hearings, that may be a timetable to which it may not be possible to adhere.”
The pre-inquest review, at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, is today hearing applications from interested parties over whether evidence held by the British government should be concealed from the public.
The review has heard that the foreign secretary has identified a “risk of serious harm to the public” if certain material is disclosed. Mr Emmerson said: “We know nothing about why these applications are being made and we are dancing in the dark.”