Russian State TV Airs Anonymous Allegation Against Oligarch In Former Spy's Death

Sunday, April 1st 2007, 5:49 pm
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ State television aired an interview Sunday implying that a former spy was fatally dosed with radiation to stop him revealing that a Russian tycoon deceived British officials to win political asylum.

A man identified only as Pyotr said that former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko had offered him millions of dollars to falsely confess that he had been assigned to kill Boris Berezovsky, a critic of the Kremlin, with a poisoned fountain pen.

Litvinenko died Nov. 23 from poisoning with radioactive polonium-210. In a deathbed statement, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the poisoning.

Pyotr said he had refused Litvinenko's offer but was dosed with psychotropic drugs and forced to falsely confess on tape, the reporter for Rossiya television's weekly news program ``News of the Week.''

In a telephone interview, Berezovsky told Echo Moskvy radio that Pyotr's story was false.

Pyotr spoke with his face away from the camera and his voice disguised.

The TV program said the false confession tape was a key element in a British court's decision not to extradite Berezovsky to face criminal charges in Russia, and to eventually grant him citizenship _ an apparent suggestion that Berezovsky tried to eliminate witnesses to the subterfuge, including Litvinenko.

Pyotr said he was under British police protection because he feared for his life.

British officials have refused to comment on the details of Berezovsky's case, saying they never discuss the immigration status of individuals.

Berezovsky was an influential Kremlin insider, but fell out with Putin in 2000 and left for England. Litvinenko, who had claimed publicly in 1998 that his bosses in the Federal Security Service had ordered him to kill Berezovsky, also fled to England that year. The two men became allies in their campaigns against the Kremlin leadership.

Russian investigators questioned Berezovsky in London Friday in connection with Litvinenko's death. British law enforcement officials said Sunday that the Russians also questioned Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Litvinenko's.

The poisoning caused wide speculation that Litvinenko was poisoned by Russian agents, possibly as punishment for defecting to Britain or for criticizing Putin.

But Russian news media and officials have suggested that Berezovsky ordered the poisoning to discredit Putin.