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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Probes Britain in Spy Flap

The Federal Security Service is investigating accusations of British espionage on Russian soil in what appears to be a tit-for-tat exchange after London demanded the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

The FSB said in a statement Friday that it had opened the criminal investigation based on "Lugovoi's statement and additional information from him about intelligence activity by the British special services on the territory of Russia."

No other details were given, and an FSB spokesman refused to elaborate.

The British Embassy declined to comment. "It is our long-standing policy not to comment on matters of intelligence," a spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office, which is conducting its own investigation that has yet to yield any visible results, directed all questions to the FSB.

Lugovoi, whom Britain has charged with killing Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic and former security services officer, accused Litvinenko and businessman Boris Berezovsky at a recent Moscow news conference of having ties with the British intelligence services. He also said Berezovsky had been hired by MI6 to kill Litvinenko.

Neither Berezovsky nor Litvinenko were named in the FSB statement.

Berezovsky on Friday reiterated earlier denials of involvement with British intelligence. "I have never worked for any special services in my life, not in Britain, not in American, not in Israel, not in Russia. Not anywhere," Berezovsky said by telephone from London, where he lives after receiving asylum.

Asked about Berezovsky, the British Foreign Office, which deals with MI6 inquiries, said it could not comment on intelligence matters. "That's a long-standing policy," a spokeswoman said.

Berezovsky is wanted in Russia on charges connected to his calling for the overthrow of President Vladimir Putin's government and his previous business dealings in Russia. He has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

Berezovsky will be tried for embezzlement in absentia by Moscow's Savyolovsky District Court, city court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova told Interfax on Friday. No date was named.

Berezovsky described Friday's announcement by the FSB as an attempt to pressure British authorities into extraditing him by adding more charges against him. "Of course, I don't fear that," he said. "In Britain, the law is above the authorities.

"Anyway, Russia must know that if I work for MI6, I can't be extradited," he added, joking.

Britain has charged Lugovoi, a former Federal Security Services officer, with the murder and is demanding that Russia hand him over to face trial. Putin has called the request "stupidity," saying Britain should know the Constitution prohibits the extradition of citizens.

Lugovoi and Litvinenko knew each other and both worked for the FSB and for Berezovsky, but were never close friends. A day before his Nov. 23 death, Litvinenko accused Putin in a statement from his London hospital bed of ordering his murder. The Kremlin has denied the allegation. Lugovoi is suspected of dropping a lethal dose of polonium-210 into Litvinenko's cup of green tea during a meeting three weeks earlier at a London hotel. Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who was also at the meeting, have left a trail of radiation across London and parts of Europe. Radiation was also detected in Berezovsky's London office.

The British Embassy reiterated Friday that the Litvinenko case was "not an intelligence matter but a criminal matter," the spokesman said.

"The question is about extradition, and we await Russia's response to Britain's request," he said.

In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published Friday, Lugovoi suggested that after the murder of Litvinenko, other opposition figures, such as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, could be killed in an attempt to discredit Putin.

Asked about the report, Berezovsky replied: "Lugovoi's life is under threat itself."

Lugovoi could not be reached for comment.

Friday's announcement echoes a January 2006 spy scandal when the FSB accused four British Embassy staff members of spying with transmitters concealed inside fake rocks.

In August, a Moscow military court sentenced retired intelligence agency Colonel Sergei Skripal to 13 years in prison on charges of spying for Britain.