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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Back Berezovsky Murder Story

ReutersBoris Berezovsky on Wednesday
British police said Wednesday that they arrested a suspect last month in London on suspicion of conspiring to kill self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

"The man was released into the custody of immigration officials two days later," a Scotland Yard spokesman said by telephone.

Berezovsky, an ardent Kremlin opponent, said at a news conference in London that he left Britain on June 16 after police warned him his life was in danger. "Putin is personally behind this plot," Berezovsky said, adding that he had received threats before.

Berezovsky first revealed the plot in an interview published in The Times of London on Wednesday.

The Kremlin has denied similar claims in the past.

The statements from the police and Berezovsky come a day after Russia promised a "targeted and adequate" response to Britain's expulsion of four diplomats to protest Russia's refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, whom Britain has charged with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The response was expected Thursday, said Russia's ambassador to London, Yury Fedotov.

The European Union, meanwhile, sided with Britain in the dispute. The EU's Portuguese presidency issued a statement expressing "its disappointment at Russia's failure to cooperate constructively with the U.K. authorities" and called for urgent cooperation.

Berezovsky said he flew to an unidentified destination on June 16. He returned a week later after London police called him with the message that it was safe to return.

The police did not say why the man was handed over to immigration officials, but a British Home Office spokeswoman said immigration authorities would have become involved if a person were in the country illegally.

British media reported Wednesday that Scotland Yard intercepted a man at the London Hilton on Park Lane hotel.

An eyewitness said by telephone that television crews were gathered Wednesday afternoon around the entrance to the hotel, situated a short walk from Berezovsky's office in Mayfair.

Berezovsky said he holds many meetings in the hotel because of its proximity. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman refused to comment on whether the arrest had been made at the hotel.

The day Berezovsky fled, his close associate Alex Goldfarb returned to London from a business trip to Hamburg, Germany, with Litvinenko's widow, Marina, who was celebrating her birthday.

Goldfarb said he first became aware of a "serious security alert" when he and Litvinenko turned up for a birthday barbeque that evening at the house of Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen rebel envoy wanted in Russia on charges of terrorism.

A large number of plainclothes and uniformed police officers had gathered outside the house, Goldfarb said.

"They told us that they were very concerned for our safety," Goldfarb said by telephone from London. "Then I called Boris, who was invited but wasn't at the party, and he told me about the police warning."

At the news conference, Berezovsky said the Kremlin wanted to kill him for two reasons: He was a witness to the murder of Litvinenko and he funds the political opposition in Russia.

Last year, the Federation Council approved a request by Putin to grant him the right to defend "the human rights and freedoms of citizens [and] the sovereignty of the Russian Federation" by using security forces outside of the country. In 2004, two Russian agents were convicted in Qatar on charges of killing Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev with a car bomb.

Berezovsky said threats to his life in Britain began even earlier.

In 2002, Scotland Yard police met Berezovsky at his home in Surrey, southwest of London. "They told me, 'Some Chechens are plotting to kill you,'" Berezovsky said, adding that the police subsequently offered him extra protection, which he accepted, he said.

In April, FSB-connected friends visited Berezovsky in London, where they warned him of an imminent attempt on his life, he said. "They said: 'Someone you know will come and kill you, and not even try to hide it." The would-be killer would portray the crime as the result of a business quarrel, the friends said.

"Two months later, what happened was exactly how they said," he added, in reference to the June plot.

Berezovsky said that although he was withholding some information at the request of Scotland Yard, he did not know the identity of the suspect.

Berezovsky is wanted in Russia on charges including money laundering and calling for a violent coup, charges he denies.

He told reporters he was willing to stand trial "on any charges" in any country his lawyer considers to possess an independent judiciary. He offered Denmark and Sweden as examples.

Russian officials, meanwhile, were skeptical of the allegations.

"In order to distract from his combination of money laundering and fraud, he is trying to present himself as a political opponent and draw attention to his own persona," said Fedotov, the Russian ambassador, Interfax reported.

"The stories that Berezovsky is always thinking up are conjured out of thin air," said Mikhail Grishankov, a senior member of the Duma's Security Committee.

In what many read as a sign of increasing tensions between Britain and Russia, two Russian military jets were dispatched from their base in the Arctic Circle on Tuesday and headed toward British airspace, British media reported.

The British Air Force scrambled fighter jets to intercept the planes, which turned back before they entered British airspace.

On July 4, Russia officially refused Britain's request to extradite Lugovoi, a former Federal Guard Service officer. Britain has charged him with the murder of Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning on Nov. 23, three weeks after a meeting with Lugovoi in a London hotel.