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Russia says Litvinenko visited Chechnya to kill for Berezovsky

RIA Novosti

01/06/2007 15:17

MOSCOW, June 1 (RIA Novosti) - A senior Russian official said there is strong evidence that Alexander Litvinenko visited Chechnya to eliminate witnesses linking tycoon Boris Berezovsky to terrorist warlord Shamil Basayev.

"We have reliable information about Litvinenko's visits to the Chechen Republic via Georgia. He was there to eliminate evidence of Berezovsky's involvement in funding illegal armed groups there, and Basayev's contacts," Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelyov said Friday in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus.

Yedelyov said the information was obtained during an investigation into the terrorist invasion of the Russian republic of Daghestan, on the Caspian coast, from neighboring Chechnya in 1999, and multiple terrorist attacks in Moscow, the Stavropol Territory and the southern towns of Volgodonsk and Buinaksk.

"We have found witnesses who testified that several million rubles Berezovsky had given to Basayev, purportedly to have a factory repaired, were spent on weapons," the Russian official said.

That done, Litvinenko came to Chechnya "with instructions from Berezovsky" to eliminate the witnesses, he said.

"But Litvinenko failed to do this," Yedelyov said.

Lugovoi's accusations

Andrei Lugovoi, a former security-officer-turned-businessman, whom the U.K. authorities have officially charged with Litvinenko's murder, said Thursday Litvinenko had boasted visiting the Pankisi Gorge, on the border between Chechnya and Georgia.

He also said that both Litvinenko and Berezovsky had been recruited by MI6 to collect compromising materials against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his family and alleged Litvinenko's acquaintance Alexander Goldfarb, the head of an NGO called International Foundation for Civil Liberties, was seeking to "sell" political asylum in the U.K. to Russian nationals eager to avoid criminal prosecution at home.

Official response

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday said the downturn in Russian-U.K. relations was due to the politicization of the Litvinenko affair by British authorities.

"There is some [negative] feeling because we can see attempts from the British side to use a criminal case, [which needs] a professional inquiry, for the sake of some political campaign," Lavrov said.

"We [think that] this affair should remain in the jurisdiction of competent authorities," he said.

Litvinenko died of radioactive poisoning November 23, 2006 in London shortly after he received a British passport and converted to Islam.

In what Goldfarb described as his deathbed note, Litvinenko blamed the Kremlin in general and President Putin in particular for his death, but the Kremlin denied the allegations.

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