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Lawyer: Killed Kremlin critic was UK spy

LONDON — Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian agent-turned-Kremlin critic, was a ‘‘registered and paid’’ agent working for Britain’s foreign intelligence agency when he died after being mysteriously poisoned, a lawyer representing his widow told an official hearing Thursday. Another lawyer said the UK has evidence the Russian government was behind Litvinenko’s death.

The 43-year-old Russian died in November 2006 after drinking tea laced with the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210 at a London hotel. Six years later, British authorities are reopening investigations into the shocking circumstances of his death.

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On his deathbed, the former Russian FSB agent accused the Kremlin of being behind his killing, and his family has long demanded Russian authorities be held accountable.

The case has strained relations between the United Kingdom and Russia.

Thursday’s session aimed to set out the scope of a public inquest into Litvinenko’s death. Judge Robert Owen said the inquest is expected to start in May.

Lawyer Ben Emmerson, representing Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, alleged that at the time of his death, Litvinenko was working for Britain’s MI6 spy agency and had been tasked to help Spanish intelligence investigate the Russian mafia. The UK inquiry must consider whether MI6 failed to properly assess the risks before sending the agent out on his assignment, Emmerson said.

According to the lawyer, Litvinenko had been employed by MI6 for several years and frequently met with a handler from the agency known only as ‘‘Martin’’ in central London. Payments from both the British and Spanish intelligence agencies were made to a joint bank account held by the agent and his wife, Emmerson alleged.

Shortly before his death, Litvinenko was due to travel to Spain with former KGB bodyguard Andrey Lugovoi to provide intelligence to Spanish authorities, Emmerson told the hearing. He said he was basing his claims on information Marina Litvinenko gave to British police.

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