Putin awards medal to chief suspect in Litvinenko murder

Putin awards medal to chief suspect in Litvinenko murder

Moscow (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday awarded a medal of honour to the chief suspect in the murder of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko for "services to the fatherland".

The Kremlin released an honours list including Andrei Lugovoi, a lawmaker in a nationalist party who is wanted by Britain over the poisoning of Litvinenko in 2006.

Litvinenko, 43, an ex-agent in Russia's FSB intelligence agency who became a vocal critic of the Kremlin, died after drinking tea laced with deadly polonium-210 at a meeting with two Russians in a London hotel.

Britain has named Lugovoi as one of two suspects it wants to question over Litvinenko's murder, along with Dmitri Kovtun. Both are said to be former FSB agents, but Lugovoi denies this.

In a letter dictated from his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Putin of having ordered his murder.

However Moscow has rejected any role in the killing and has repeatedly refused to extradite Lugovoi to face questioning.

The Kremlin said that Lugovoi was being decorated for "his great contribution to the development of the Russian parliamentary system and his active role in lawmaking."

Lugovoi is an MP in Russia's lower house of parliament for the nationalist and pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party. He is deputy chairman of the lower house's security and anti-corruption committee.

He has also worked as a bodyguard for top politicians and businessmen.

The Kremlin on Monday also decorated Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov with an order of merit for "his active public service and many years of conscientious work."

The medal is the latest in a number of Kremlin decorations for the controversial strongman.

Kadyrov's decoration comes a day after Russia charged two men, including a former police officer from Chechnya, with the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

However Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the timing of the award was merely a coincidence: "It takes several months to draw up the documents for awards," he told the RBK news website.