Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the killing of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, a British inquiry into his agonising death by radiation poisoning found on Thursday.
Mr Litvinenko, a prominent Kremlin critic, died in 2006 aged 43, three weeks after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium at an upmarket London hotel.
Mr Andrei Lugovoi and Mr Dmitri Kovtun, two Russians identified as prime suspects by British police, probably carried out the poisoning under the instruction of Russian security services, the inquiry said.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office called the findings “extremely disturbing” but the government did not announce sanctions in response, instead summoning Moscow’s ambassador to London for talks.
It did, however, impose asset freezes on the two alleged perpetrators named by the inquiry.
There were cries of “Yes!” at the High Court in London as the main findings were read out.
Litvinenko’s wife Marina, dressed in black and accompanied by her 21-year-old son Anatoly, embraced supporters afterwards.
She has spent years pushing for a public inquiry to be held and had called for sanctions against Russia and a travel ban on Putin.
“I’m very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr Putin of his murder have been proved true in an English court,” she told reporters outside the court.
She told AFP after the hearing: “I can’t say it is what I hoped for but I really appreciate it.”
Russia dismissed the findings, calling the inquiry “politically motivated”.
“We had no reason to expect that the final findings of the politically motivated and extremely non-transparent process would suddenly become objective and unbiased,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
Mr Lugovoi, now a far-right, pro-Putin lawmaker in Russia, described it as “absurd”.
Judge Robert Owen, the inquiry’s chairman, said he was “sure” that Mr Lugovoi and Kovtun placed polonium-210 in the teapot at the Millennium Hotel’s Pine Bar, where they met Litvinenko on November 1, 2006.
“The FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Nikolai Patrushev and also by President Putin,” the report said.