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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Litvinenko Spoke of Recruiting Assassins

LONDON -- Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko gave a series of interviews before his death in which he described how he was ordered to recruit powerful businessmen for post-Communist Russia, hire assassins to neutralize their potential rivals and kill whistle-blowers who threatened the Kremlin, a newspaper report said.

Academics James Heartfield and Julia Svetlichnaja, from the University of Westminster, spoke to Litvinenko in a series of three interviews that lasted about six hours in total in April and May, the details of which were printed in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which published a syndicated version of the academics' work Saturday.

The taped interviews were conducted in Russian and Svetlichnaja translated them. The focus of the interviews was Chechnya, but many questions about the specifics of Litvinenko's orders from intelligence bosses and the timeframe of his work were left unanswered.

Litvinenko, 43, was recruited into the KGB and later promoted to a specialist counterterrorism and organized crime unit. After the fall of communism, he said his directive was to recruit powerful businessmen who could stimulate an economic boom, and to hire assassins.

"So if somebody was the victim of a crime -- like his daughter was raped -- you would offer to let them take revenge on the perpetrator," the academics quoted Litvinenko as saying. "This was how we recruited killers."

The Kremlin had no immediate comment.

Litvinenko on one occasion met the researchers in the Itsu sushi bar in London's Piccadilly district, the restaurant he visited Nov. 1, the day he said he was poisoned and where police have found traces of radiation.

He told the academics that as a favor to a senior former colleague who was in debt to moneylenders from elsewhere in the Caucasus, he was told to arrest the creditors and execute them.

"Our department worked on the so-called problem principle -- the government had a problem, and we had simply to deal with it," the academics quoted him as saying.

It was unclear how many of the orders he obeyed and on what dates many of the orders were given.

One target he was purportedly ordered to kill was Mikhail Trepashkin, another security officer who had spoken out about the activities of the Federal Security Service, or FSB. Another he was told to kidnap to trade for FSB officers taken hostage by Chechens was a prominent Chechen businessman based in Moscow. The report did not identify the businessman.

By 1997, he said his department had become "responsible for illegal punishments or so-called extralegal executions of unsuitable businessmen, politicians and other public figures. In parallel, the department blackmailed the same targets for funds."

Since he was granted British asylum in 2000, Litvinenko reached out to many Russian dissidents in talks and interviews. He also published a book about the bombings of Russian apartment buildings that stirred tensions before the Chechen war of 1999.

He is survived by his wife, Marina, 44, his 10-year-old son, Anatoly, and father, Walter.