A view of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in winter. Photo by Denis Larkin/Shutterstock
LONDON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday opened a public inquiry into the suspicious death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko, who defected to Britain in 2000, became an outspoken critic of the Kremlin and reportedly worked as an informant for Britain's MI6 security service.
He died in 2006 after being poisoned by radioactive material. The former spy blamed the Kremlin from his death bed, an accusation the Kremlin denied.
Police concluded he was poisoned at the Millennium Hotel where, in November 2006, he met with former Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun and consumed a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium-210. He fell violently ill following their meeting and died three weeks later.
"I know my husband was killed, I saw how it happened. It was a torture. He died a long 23 days in front of me, in front of his son, in front of his friends," Litvinenko's widow, Marina, told Sky News. She said she hopes the inquiry will end the speculation and conspiracy theories, and bring her closure.
Her lawyer has characterized the former spy's death as "an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."
Prosecutors have sought the extradition of the two former Russian agents who met with Litvinenko at the hotel where he was poisoned, but have been blocked by Moscow. Russia's constitution does not authorize the extradition of Russian citizens.
Britain's public inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, will examine evidence behind closed doors. "The issues to which his death gives rise are of the utmost gravity and have attracted worldwide interests and concern," Owen said.
More than 70 witnesses are expected to be called during the course of the inquiry. A pathologist and nuclear scientist are due to testify Wednesday.