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Litvinenko judge say poisoning suspect's offer to testify may have been 'charade'

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LONDON — The British judge investigating the radioactive poisoning death of former Russian agent on Tuesday accused Russian authorities or a key suspect of interfering with his inquiry.

Robert Owen spoke after suspect Dmitry Kovtun failed to give evidence.

Kovtun had offered to testify by video link from Russia, but at the last minute said he was bound by confidentiality obligations to an ongoing Russian inquiry.

Owen said that either Kovtun's offer of participation had been "a charade" or "obstacles have been put in the way of his doing so."

"Mr. Kovtun has been given every opportunity to give evidence," the judge said. "He has now lost that opportunity."

Litvinenko, a KGB officer-turned-Kremlin critic, died in 2006, three weeks after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel. On his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Russian President of ordering his assassination — a claim Moscow denies.

British authorities say there is evidence of Russian state involvement, and police have accused two Russians who met Litvinenko in London, Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, of carrying out the killing. Both deny involvement, and Russia refuses to extradite them.

Owen plans to wrap up inquiry hearings this week and issue his findings by the end of the year.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Wednesday, April 8, 2015 file photo, Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun speaks during a press conference at Interfax headquarters in Moscow, Russia. A prime suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko says he won't testify as planned at an inquiry into the former Russian spy's death, leading the judge in charge to accuse him of trying to manipulate proceedings. Inquiry counsel Robin Tam says Dmitry Kovtun claims to be bound by obligations of confidentiality to an ongoing Russian investigation. He had been due to testify by video link from Russia Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 8, 2015 file photo, Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun speaks during a press conference at Interfax headquarters in Moscow, Russia. A prime suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko says he won't testify as planned at an inquiry into the former Russian spy's death, leading the judge in charge to accuse him of trying to manipulate proceedings. Inquiry counsel Robin Tam says Dmitry Kovtun claims to be bound by obligations of confidentiality to an ongoing Russian investigation. He had been due to testify by video link from Russia Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

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PHOTO: FILE - In this Friday, May 10, 2002 file photo, Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy and author of the book "Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within", is photographed at his home in London. A prime suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko says he won't testify as planned at an inquiry into the former Russian spy's death, leading the judge in charge to accuse him of trying to manipulate proceedings. Inquiry counsel Robin Tam says Dmitry Kovtun claims to be bound by obligations of confidentiality to an ongoing Russian investigation He had been due to testify by video link from Russia Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Alistair Fuller, File)
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