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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LDPR Offers Lugovoi Immunity in Duma

MTAndrei Lugovoi
Andrei Lugovoi, the former Federal Guard Service officer wanted in Britain for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, could soon have immunity from prosecution, all thanks to Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Zhirinovsky said Lugovoi would be named to the No. 2 spot on the LDPR's federal list for December's State Duma elections, Interfax reported.

Should the party get the minimum 7 percent of the vote necessary to qualify for seats in the Duma, Lugovoi would be eligible for a seat -- and the immunity that goes with it.

"I will take part in the party conference tomorrow," Lugovoi said in a telephone interview Sunday, confirming his desire to run for office. He refused to comment further.

The millionaire businessman denies that he killed Litvinenko, blaming the accusations, as well as the poisoning, on British intelligence services and exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

"We've known him for a long time," Zhirinovsky said, "and we have the chance to include him on the party list."

He added that Lugovoi would take up his place in the parliament, if won, and not pass the spot on to someone else, which is common with politicians at the top of party lists.

Zhirinovsky dismissed the murder accusations, saying, "The whole story with Britain -- it is an attempted provocation against our citizen."

The No. 2 spot on the LDPR list formerly belonged to Alexei Mitrofanov, Zhirinovsky's equally flamboyant deputy, who wrote the script for a soft-porn movie that starred look-alikes of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko. Mitrofanov recently defected to the Kremlin-backed A Just Russia party.

The last place in the top three will go to Zhirinovsky's son, Igor Lebedev.

Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who had political asylum in Britain, died Nov. 23 of radiation poisoning, just three weeks after meeting Lugovoi in a London hotel. On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Putin of organizing his murder. Litvinenko's friends say he suspected Lugovoi of poisoning him.

The killing soured relations between the countries after a request to extradite Lugovoi by the British government was turned down. Four diplomats were expelled from each country in tit-for-tat expulsions.

Russia has repeatedly said its Constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens and that its prosecutors are investigating the murder.

Analysts said Zhirinovsky's offer to Lugovoi should play well with the LDPR constituency. Even if Lugovoi does not make it on the list, the publicity will give the party a boost for December's vote.

"It is a successful tactical maneuver from Zhirinovsky. It will bring him new votes," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Lugovoi is a perfect fit because LDPR voters enjoy the showmanship and bravado of the move. They are also more likely to see Lugovoi as a hero for allegedly killing someone they see as a traitor, Pribylovsky said.

The move could be a PR coup for Zhirinovsky, a showman who combines ultranationalist bombast with a reputation as a politician ready to do the Kremlin's bidding.

"If he doesn't wake up his voters, they won't vote, so he needs to give his electorate a carrot to get it to vote," Pribylovsky said.

Sergei Mitrokhin, head of Yabloko's party list in the Moscow district, chuckled when informed of the move.

"This is simply Zhirinovsky working according to his own style," he said. "The party has replaced one scandalous figure [Mitrofanov] with another to maintain the nationalist hysteria that gets the party votes."

"I do not comment on the behavior of Zhirinovsky or others of his kind," Berezovsky said in a telephone interview from Britain.

The British Embassy and the British Foreign Office did not return calls asking for a comment.

Lugovoi would not be the first person suspected of murder to be a candidate for the Duma. In 1999, when the LDPR was unable to run under its own name because two of the first three people on its party list submitted improper property declarations, one of the names on the list was Anatoly Bykov.

Bykov, a Krasnoyarsk metals magnate, was arrested in Hungary in November 1999 on an international warrant for murder, money laundering and gun running.

Apart from attending the LDPR conference, Lugovoi will be busy Monday meeting with his lawyers in a 20 million ruble ($790,000) libel case he has brought against Kommersant in Moscow's Tverskoi District Court.

Lugovoi is suing over an article that referred to Litvinenko as "his victim," his lawyer Tatyana Stukalova said Sunday, Interfax reported. The article, published July 9, was a slur on the "honor and dignity of Lugovoi," Stukalova said.

Kommersant editor Andrei Vasilyev said Lugovoi was within his rights to complain.

"I agree that the phrase was incorrect," he said, Interfax reported.

The paper is ready to apologize publicly if Lugovoi agrees to drop the court case, Vasilyev said. He added that going to court would make it look like Lugovoi was trying to "make money" off his involvement in the Litvinenko affair, and that the publicity would "undermine the LDPR."

Lugovoi has not shied away from publicity since the charges for Litvinenko's murder were brought. He has been a regular at society events, including the party for Ekho Moskvy radio's 17th anniversary last week, where British Ambassador Anthony Brenton was also a guest.

Staff Writer David Nowak contributed to this report.