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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutor Slams U.K. Legal System

Itar-TassZvyagintsev holding up a copy of the Constitution for reporters Monday, just before suggesting that people read it.
A top official questioned the independence of the British justice system Monday, as London and Moscow continued to trade barbs in the dispute over the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi.

Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev said at a news conference that there were no legal grounds for the extradition request and that it was driven by politics, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London adopted markedly stronger rhetoric in renewed calls for Russia to hand over Lugovoi.

"We know all too well where [Britain's] judicial process ends and where the government machine takes over," Zvyagintsev told reporters at the Prosecutor General's Office.

Brown, meanwhile, called on Russian authorities to "recognize it is their responsibility" to extradite Lugovoi.

"It is very important that the world understands this: You cannot have people assassinated on British soil, and then discover that you wish to arrest someone who is in another country, and to be not in a position to do that," Brown said at a news conference in London.

"We cannot tolerate a situation where all the evidence is that not only was one person assassinated, but many other people were put at risk," he added.

Monday's announcements stirred up waters that appeared to calm at the end of last week after tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats from London and Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin said Friday that he was sure the "mini-crisis" would be resolved, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that bilateral relations would soon be normalized.

As if to demonstrate that actions speak louder than words, Zvyagintsev waved around a copy of the Constitution before making his remarks Monday.

The Constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens.

"Whoever hasn't read this, I suggest you read it," he said, before launching into an attack on the entire British justice system, which he said was controlled by the government. It is not an independent institution like the Prosecutor General's Office, he said.

Lugovoi is the former security services officer Britain has charged with the murder of former security services officer Alexander Litvinenko. On May 28, British Ambassador Anthony Brenton submitted a formal request for Lugovoi's extradition to be tried in a British court. Moscow refused on July 4, citing the Constitution.

Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in protest, and Russia replied in kind.

But the noises coming from the West since the refusal clearly continue to irk Russia: David Miliband, Britain's new foreign secretary, called the decision "unacceptable," and the United States and European Union both publicly backed Britain last week.

All of this may have played a part in prompting Monday's response.

"There is no evidence in the materials provided by Britain that there was an objective investigation of the Litvinenko case by Scotland Yard," Zvyagintsev said, before repeating Moscow's long-standing offer to try Lugovoi in Russia. Britain has refused the offer over concerns related to judicial impartiality.

The Prosecutor General's Office has examined the evidence provided by Britain to back up the extradition request, Zvyagintsev said, and found it lacking.

A British Embassy spokesman refuted that claim Monday. "Substantial and significant information has been sent to the Russian authorities, sufficient for the purposes of extradition, to make it clear there is a case to answer," said the spokesman, who requested anonymity in line with embassy policy.

What killed Litvinenko, all sides agree, was polonium-210, an isotope that leaves an easily detectable radioactive trail. British investigators identified radioactive contamination in several locations Lugovoi visited in London around the time Litvinenko was killed.

At Monday's news conference, Andrei Mayorov, deputy head of the prosecutors' department for high-priority cases, held up a sheaf of extradition-request documents bound with a green ribbon.

If polonium-210 were detected on the airplane seat Lugovoi occupied on his return flight to Moscow, Mayorov asked, why was there no evidence in the British request of radiation found in taxis or buses that Lugovoi must have taken before and after boarding the plane?

Mayorov reeled off other examples of what he called holes in the British request that had not been explained, despite official requests.

While conducting their own inquiry, Russian investigators asked for access to other sites in Britain where Lugovoi had reportedly been. Britain refused, saying those sites were not relevant to the investigation, Zvyagintsev said.

"Who is Britain to decide what is and what is not relevant to our investigation?" he asked.

Zvyagintsev also took the opportunity to criticize Britain's refusal to turn over exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who is wanted in Russia on charges including fraud and embezzlement.

He said British prosecutors had come to his office during a visit to Moscow and had told him that an attempt to extradite Berezovsky would go nowhere.

"They said, and we recorded all of this, that we shouldn't waste judges' time by pushing the Berezovsky case through the courts when it has already decided that he won't be extradited anyway," Zvyagintsev said.

Litvinenko, who Zvyagintsev said was a "very important witness" for Russia, died of organ failure Nov. 23. He met Lugovoi and others at a London hotel Nov. 1, when British prosecutors believe he drank tea laced with polonium-210.