LONDON (AP) — An inquest into the death of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko should take place early next year and will likely consider whether Russian authorities were involved, a senior British judge said Thursday.
Judge Robert Owen said it is "to be regretted" that no inquest has been held in the nearly six years since the former security service officer died in London in November 2006.
Owen told a pre-inquest court hearing that he would open his inquest as early in 2013 as possible.
Litvinenko, a critic of the Kremlin, died in London after ingesting polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope.
On his deathbed he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning, and the killing cast a pall over U.K.-Russian relations that still persists.
British prosecutors have accused two Russians, Alexander Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, of killing Litvinenko, but Russia refuses to hand them over. Lugovoi is now a Russian lawmaker.
In Britain an inquest is held to determine the facts whenever someone dies unexpectedly, violently or in disputed circumstances.
Inquests do not determine criminal liability. But Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said it was vital that the inquest investigate "the criminal role of the Russian state."
Emmerson said that if Russian state involvement was proved, it would constitute "an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."
The judge said the scope of the inquest would be decided at a later hearing, but said he was inclined to agree it should look at Russia's role.