Thursday, May 31, 2007

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British secret service involved in Litvinenko killing, says suspect

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Andrei Lugovoy said he has been made a scapegoat by the British authorities

Claim by claim: Lugovoy's theories examined

The former KGB officer wanted over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko made sensational claims today that the British Secret Service was implicated in the poisoning and tried to recruit him to spy on President Putin.

At a dramatic press conference in Moscow, Andrei Lugovoy also said that Litvinenko was working for MI6 and tried to recruit him as a British spy.

“It is hard to escape the thought that Litvinenko had become an agent who had escaped the control of the special services and they took him out, if not the special services, then those under their control, or those cooperating with them,” Mr Lugovoy said.

“The main role is played by the British special services and their agents,” he said. “The poisoning of Litvinenko couldn’t have taken place outside the control of Great Britain’s special services.”

Asked whether there was any evidence to support his accusations, Mr Lugovoy replied “there is”, but refused to elaborate.

Litvinenko was poisoned in a Central London hotel last November and the Crown Prosecution Service announced this month that they wished to charge Mr Lugovoy with his murder. The UK has formally requested the Russian’s extradition.

Mr Lugovoy, 40, again denied any knowledge of who had poisoned Litvinenko with polonium-210, but also pointed the finger at the Russian exile Boris Berezovsky or the Russian mafia, who he said Litvinenko had given evidence against to Spanish police.

The former KGB officer said the British special services “asked me to collect compromising information on President Putin”. He said they “thought I was a Russian James Bond who can infiltrate Russian nuclear facilities”.

Mr Lugovoy suggested that when he refused Litvinenko’s attempt to make him a British agent Litvinenko became “mad and crazy”.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Lugovoy accused the British authorities of setting him up to stop him revealing their attempts to turn him into a spy. “They thought in London that I would be silent because I would not be extradited,” he said.

Relations between the British and Russian governments have been strained by the UK’s request for Mr Lugovoy’s extradition. The Kremlin will not extradite Russian nationals, but they have asked for Mr Berezovsky to be extradited to Moscow.

Mr Berezovsky said later that the Russian Government was manufacturing the claims.

“It is now clearer than ever that the Kremlin is behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Everything about Mr Lugovoy’s words and presentation made it obvious that he is acting on Kremlin instruction,” he said.

“The UK authorities know very well who their MI6 agents are in the UK and so they know that I am not one of them. If Mr Lugovoy would like to prove his innocence, I suggest again that he travel to London and face trial in the UK courts.”

Russia’s relations with the West deteriorated further last night when Washington joined the calls for Mr Lugovoy to stand trial in London. “The United States supports Britain’s extradition request. This was a serious crime and the matter needs to be dealt with,” said Gordon Johndroe US national security council spokesman.

British police concluded that Mr Lugovoy was their main suspect for the murder of Litvinenko after Scotland Yard officers had traced the radioactive poison to a teapot in the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. Mr Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, a business partner, met Litvinenko in the hotel bar on November 1, 22 days before he died.

A few days earlier Mr Litvinenko had met an Italian academic, Mario Scaramella, in a sushi bar in Piccadilly where it is said that he received documents claiming to name the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken Russian journalist and critic of the Putin regime.

On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Mr Putin of being behind his murder. "You may succeed in silencing me, but that silence comes at a price," he said, addressing the Kremlin leader. "You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed."

Mr Lugovoy rejected those claims. He suggested that if the British authorities were not responsible, Litvinenko may have been murdered by Mr Berezovsky. He said that Litvinenko could have been poisoned by his fellow Russian exile and critic of Mr Putin because he had information which would have questioned the oligarch’s right to asylum in Britain.

The evidence that Litvinenko allegedly had, according to Mr Lugovoy, proved that Mr Berezovsky had paid for his political asylum financially and with intelligence on Russia. He then allegedly became an informer for MI6.

Mr Lugovoy said that Mr Berezovsky had recruited Litvinenko to join him in working for MI6 but that the two men had subsequently fallen out.

Litvinenko was working with Mr Berezovsky in Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Mr Lugovoy became a friend of the man he has been accused of murdering.

Mr Berezovsky had been a staunch supporter of Mr Putin, but financed a documentary based on Litvinenko’s book, which accused the FSB, the KGB’s successor, of involvement in the bombings that killed 300 people in September 1999. Mr Putin, then Prime Minister, had blamed Chechen terrorists. Litvinenko and Mr Berezovsky then fled to London.