Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Berezovsky Breaks Silence On Litvinenko

Berezovsky says Litvinenko believed they both were at the top of a Russian secret service hit list (CTK) LONDON, February 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky has broken his silence on the case of his friend Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former Russian security officers who died in a London hospital in November after receiving a fatal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Natalya Golitsyna spoke to Berezovsky.

RFE/RL: When did Litvinenko first tell you about his suspicions?

Boris Berezovsky: The first time I went to see Sasha in the hospital after his poisoning -- at that time, you'll remember, they were actively discussing the theory that [Italian security consultant Mario] Scaramella was involved -- he said to me: "Boris, you know, I have a theory which I won't announce publicly, but which is the truth. I met with Lugovoi on the day that I got sick [November 1]. Not just with him -- [Dmitry] Kovtun and another person, whom I was meeting for the first time, were also there. I believe that it was these people who poisoned me."

Honestly, I was surprised. The information that Lugovoi had participated was unexpected. Moreover, exactly one day earlier -- on October 31st -- [Lugovoi] had come to see me in my office. We even shared a bottle of white wine between the two of us. And I mean "between the two of us" literally, because there was no one else there. And so what happened to Sasha the next day, and the fact that Sasha then suspected it was Lugovoi who was mixed up in the poisoning -- of course, for me it was completely unexpected.

MORE: Read complete coverage of the Litvinenko case in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Do I believe this or not? After all the difficulties I've experienced in recent years, I know it's not possible to simply rule this out. What's more, of course, my suspicions have recently grown much stronger. Because there's a very simple way for Lugovoi to eliminate all the suspicion about him -- just get on a plane and fly here to Great Britain and voluntarily go to Scotland Yard. My experience with the English legal system shows that if you're sure you're in the right, then not even the smallest chance exists that that you'll be subjected to illegal prosecution, that you'll become just a victim of legal arbitrariness.

RFE/RL: Did Litvinenko explain what his suspicions were based on?

Berezovsky: Yes, Sasha explained. He said that clearly there was no such thing as "formers" -- meaning ex-employees of the KGB and the FSB. He believed that Lugovoi was simply fulfilling an order. The first stage was to get close to Sasha, to pique his interest with some information; the second stage was simply to fulfill the order -- to kill him. After [Russian President Vladimir] Putin signed the decree -- this was seven-eight months ago -- pemitting the special services to kill, without judgment or consequence, so-called enemies of the regime abroad who in fact are simply political opponents, Sasha said to me many times that we were first on the list -- him, [London-exiled Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed] Zakayev, me. The "hit list" didn't stop there, but we were the first.

RFE/RL: Assuming Lugovoi was capable of such a thing, why didn't he attempt to poison you with polonium as well? He had an opportunity when the two of you shared a bottle of wine, after all.

Berezovsky: You're completely correct in noticing this: the risks that Sasha faced, that I and Akhmed Zakayev face, are the same. This naturally prompts the question of why they killed Sasha and not me. I can only guess. Questions like that should be put not to me, but to the person who gave Lugovoi his orders. It has yet to be proven that Lugovoi was in fact the person who did it. Sasha stated his suspicions. Lugovoi, by being afraid to come here -- I'm using precisely that word, "afraid" -- is simply increasing those suspicions.

But I think there were reasons why it was Sasha, and why it was now. Sasha had been telling me what operations he was engaged in at the time -- not actual operations, but the people on whom he was gathering very serious evidence of participation in criminal dealings. Knowing Sasha, I understood that this was in fact very serious, because he was truly a very good operative.

RFE/RL: How long have you known Lugovoi?

Berezovsky: Lugovoi emerged at the time when Yegor Gaidar ceased to be [acting] prime minister [in late 1992]. Before that, Lugovoi, as far as I understand, was the head of Gaidar's security. It was Yegor Gaidar who recommended Lugovoi to me as a decent, honest person capable of taking charge of my personal security. After I met Andrei, he did in fact build the system I needed. There were a lot of former employees of the KGB and the [KGB's] 9th Directorate [which provided personal security for high-ranking officials] among my security guards, including Lugovoi himself.

Then Badri [Patarkatsishvili, my longtime friend and partner, offered Lugovoi the post of security chief at ORT [television], at that huge organization. It was Lugovoi who organized ORT's security. After he assumed that position, my ties with him sort of weakened, but he was always in sight. We talked occasionally, and rather productively.

So I talked to him when he [first] came to London, about three months before [these events]. My daughter was about to go to Russia, and I asked Lugovoi to organize her security. And so he did. Essentially, when he came to London [last time] and we met on [October] 31, I wanted to thank him for organizing my daughter's security.

RFE/RL: What is the goal of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office in insisting on questioning more than 100 people in London?

Berezovsky: Let's start from the beginning. First of all, it is clear that the Prosecutor-General's Office is an absolutely criminal, gangster organization that serves as an instrument of supressing people who essentially have the same mentality as Putin and others sitting in the Kremlin. This is exactly what can help you understand the purpose of their request and their inquiry.

Let's look at it this way. We know that Scotland Yard has completed its investigation. It is clear that the investigation was conducted in a professional and unbiased manner. Judging by information leaked to the press, I have the impression that Scotland Yard knows who committed this crime and they know very well who is behind it -- that is, the [Russian] state machine. The [Russian] Prosecutor-General's Office is well aware of it too, so their actions are a diversion tactic. They know who actually contracted and carried out this crime. They know not only as much as the investigators of Scotland Yard, but a lot more, because they have had access to information firsthand.

My attitude to this is very simple. I will do anything that helps Scotland Yard, even if it presents a risk to myself. Therefore, I've said I'm ready to meet with representatives of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office if it helps Scotland Yard's investigation. Russia is blackmailing Scotland Yard in this case. [Russian officials] say they will allow questioning [in Russia] if [Britain] allows [Russia] to question [people in Britain]. I said, fine, they can question me if it helps Scotland Yard find those who killed my friend.

In this regard my position is not different from that of Aleksandr Litvinenko's wife, Marina. We will not allow the investigation to be stopped and we will go to the end to seek out the criminals.

Aleksandr Litvinenko: A Timeline

Aleksandr Litvinenko: A Timeline

CLOAK AND DAGGER: A timeline of a murder case that unraveled after Andrei Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer and vocal Kremlin critic, dies on November 23, 2006, of poisoning by radioactive isotope polonium-210.

In a deathbed letter, Litvinenko blames Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death -- a claim Putin condemns.

Investigators center on two meetings in London that Litvinenko had described -- one in which he met with two Russians for tea in London, and another in which he met with a third Russian at a sushi bar.

Six months later, British prosecutors announce they have enough evidence to charge a Russian citizen -- one of the men who had met with Litvinenko for tea -- with the murder ...more...

MORE: Coverage in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.


RFE/RL's English-language coverage of Russia.


For news and analysis on Russia by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Russia Report."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.