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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.K. Grants Asylum to Ex-FSB Agent

A former Russian security agent who accused his superiors of plotting to kill tycoon Boris Berezovsky announced Tuesday that he has been granted asylum in Britain on the grounds that he faces persecution in his homeland.

"Today H.M. Home Office informed me that my family and I were granted permanent residence in Great Britain," said a statement signed by Alexander Litvinenko on Monday and circulated Tuesday through the London-based law firm of Seymour Menzies.

"I am honored by the decision," said the brief statement, read over the telephone by the firm's communications adviser. "It is hard to be an exile, but it is harder to be a victim of persecution by a repressive authority."

Litvinenko fled with his family to London and asked for asylum in November, saying he feared his former colleagues from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, would try to kill him to ensure he would make no more incriminating allegations against the agency.

Litvinenko, a lieutenant colonel in the FSB's organized crime unit, came into the limelight in the spring of 1998 when he and two colleagues held a news conference to announce that their superiors had ordered Berezovsky's murder. The FSB denied any wrongdoing and opened an investigation into Litvinenko's allegations, which was closed in December 1999.

Shortly after his announcement, Litvinenko was suspended from the FSB and went to work as an aide to Berezovsky, then-executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In January 1999, prosecutors opened the first of five criminal cases against Litvinenko, accusing him of abusing his powers by pressuring witnesses in a two-year-old case. He was acquitted that November, but, minutes after the verdict was announced, officers from the military prosecutor's office re-arrested him in the courtroom and pressed similar charges in a different case. These were dropped the following April.

The other three cases — all involving abuse of power — are still pending.

A spokeswoman for the British Home Office said she could neither confirm nor deny that Litvinenko had been granted asylum. She did say, however, that the main criterion for asylum, in general, was proof of persecution.

"You must document evidence that you're being persecuted or your life is in danger in the country from which you come," the spokeswoman, who declined to give her full name, said by phone from London.

Litvinenko's Moscow-based lawyer, Mikhail Marov, said the asylum decision was linked to the relentless harassment Litvinenko was subjected to by prosecutors after his sensational news conference. "There's no politics here," Marov said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He just fears for his life and the life of his family."

Marov said Litvinenko had informed him of the decision by phone and sounded "pleased." The lawyer added that initially Litvinenko will get some financial aid from the state, but eventually plans to find work — "not connected to intelligence."

Military prosecutors handling the cases against Litvinenko could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the FSB, who declined to give his name, said his agency had no comment on the asylum decision.

Alex Goldfarb, an acquaintance who helped Litvinenko and his family enter Britain, predicted after their arrival last fall that London would be very careful to avoid a diplomatic confrontation, in light of the relatively warm ties at the time with Moscow.

Goldfarb, a U.S. citizen, helped the Litvinenkos leave Turkey, where they had fled from Ukraine, by booking tickets to a Carribean island via London, and approaching a British police officer with a request for asylum as soon as they landed at Heathrow.

Since then, Goldfarb says, he has been denied entry to Britain, ostensibly for aiding an illegal alien. Speaking by phone from New York, he said that in April he was told by the British Consulate there that his application to enter Britain, submitted in December, was still being considered.

Marov and others said they doubted the asylum decision would adversely affect Russian-British relations, calling the case "politically insignificant."