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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lugovoi Points Finger at Berezovsky

MTDmitry Kovtun, left, and Andrei Lugovoi speaking to reporters Thursday. Lugovoi linked Berezovsky and British intelligence to Litvinenko's death in November.
Andrei Lugovoi, the businessman whom British prosecutors have charged in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, said Thursday that the most likely perpetrator was self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, working on the orders of British special intelligence services.

"Even if [MI6] hadn't done it itself, [the killing] was done under its control or connivance," Lugovoi said at a packed news conference hall at Interfax's offices -- the same hall from which Litvinenko, then a Federal Security Services officer, accused the FSB of ordering him to kill Berezovsky in 1998.

"The main role was played by British special services and their agent, Berezovsky," Lugovoi said.

Asked whether he had evidence to back up his claims, Lugovoi answered: "There is," without elaborating.

Berezovsky called the claims "a direct accusation by the Kremlin toward the British government." The British Foreign Office said Litvinenko's death was a criminal matter and not linked to intelligence services.

The Kremlin said Lugovoi's words were "worthy of further investigation."

Litvinenko died of organ failure in a London hospital on Nov. 23, about three weeks after ingesting polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope. Litvinenko, who met with Lugovoi and his business associates Dmitry Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko at a London hotel bar on Nov. 1, accused Putin of ordering his murder in a statement released the day after his death.

Lugovoi -- making his first extensive comments since British prosecutors announced last week that he was their prime suspect -- said the murder was the result of a spat that began when Berezovsky cut off an allowance he had been paying Litvinenko.

Lugovoi, flanked by Kovtun, also said Litvinenko had worked for British intelligence and had asked him to collect information on President Vladimir Putin. Lugovoi said he had refused.

Litvinenko and Lugovoi, also a veteran of the security services, worked for Berezovsky in the 1990s. Litvinenko left the FSB shortly after the 1998 news conference in which he accused his superiors of ordering him to kill Berezovsky.

Berezovsky denied Lugovoi's allegations. "Now it will all become clear," Berezovsky said by telephone from London, minutes after reading a report of the news conference. "MI6 has an exhaustive list of agents. I am not one of them. Lugovoi has put his life at risk for the Kremlin."

The British Foreign Office said MI6 was not involved. "This is a criminal matter and is not an issue about intelligence," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "A British citizen was killed in London, and U.K. citizens and visitors were put at risk." Litvinenko had British citizenship.

A British Embassy spokesman called Lugovoi's allegations "very serious."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the comments "must be fully investigated."

"There is no basis to believe Lugovoi, and there is no basis to ignore Lugovoi," Peskov said.

Asked whether the claims might cast a further chill on ties with Britain, he said they would if they were found true. Then, he said, a criminal matter would turn into a diplomatic issue.

"But, of course, we hope for the best," he added.

The Prosecutor General's Office, which has opened an investigation of its own into Litvinenko's death, said it would look into Lugovoi's allegations.

The FSB, reacting with unusual speed, issued a statement in which it also promised to investigate.

Lugovoi reeled off a list of seven reasons why he believes he should not be considered a suspect, starting with, "Sasha wasn't my enemy." He said that if he had wanted to kill Litvinenko, there had been more convenient occasions when the pair had met before Nov. 1.

He also called into question the work of the London Metropolitan Police, accusing them of not asking the right questions during an interview with Berezovsky in April.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman called Lugovoi's comments "complete speculation that we're not going to discuss."

Among his other accusations against Berezovsky, Lugovoi said the businessman had planned a "provocation" against Ivan Rybkin, Berezovsky's candidate in the 2004 presidential election. Rybkin, who eventually withdrew from the race, citing Kremlin pressure, mysteriously disappeared for four days in the run-up to the election and later said he had been drugged and forced to participate in a compromising video.

At the time, Berezovsky paid a security firm owned by Lugovoi to protect Rybkin, Lugovoi said.

Rybkin could not be reached Thursday, but he told Interfax that he "did not trust" Lugovoi.

Berezovsky and his associates, including Alex Goldfarb, have said they believe Lugovoi is in league with Putin.

Goldfarb is currently in Paris with Litvinenko's widow, Marina. They are publishing a book on the poisoning that hits London and Paris bookstores Monday.

"Whatever Lugovoi says, it doesn't matter," said Goldfarb, who works for Berezovsky's Foundation for Civil Liberties and helped Berezovsky obtain political asylum in Britain several years ago.

Berezovsky denied remarks attributed to him by the Financial Times on Thursday that he was financing The Other Russia, the opposition coalition led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that has staged a series of Dissenters' Marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities this year.

Lugovoi's news conference and the Financial Times report led the news programs on the Channel One and NTV television channels Thursday evening.