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Ex-KGB spy: UK tried to recruit me

Story Highlights

• Lugovoi says Britain tried to recruit him to provide intelligence
• Ex-KGB spy suggests UK intelligence could be behind murder
• Lugovoi says murdered spy was working for British intelligence
• Russia will not extradite Lugovoi, charged by Britain with murdering Litvinenko
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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- The man charged by Britain with murdering former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko denied involvement on Thursday, saying British intelligence and a self-exiled Russian multi-millionaire were far more likely suspects.

In comments likely to deepen a Russian-British feud reminiscent of Cold War spy scandals, Britain's chief suspect Andrei Lugovoy rejected Litvinenko's deathbed charge the Kremlin had ordered his poisoning with highly radioactive Polonium 210.

At a packed news conference in Moscow, Lugovoy said he suspected British intelligence, the mafia and Boris Berezovsky, a multi-millionaire Kremlin critic who fled Russia for London, could have been involved in Litvinenko's murder.

"The main role was played by British secret services and their agent Berezovsky," a confident and combative Lugovoy, himself a former KGB agent, told a news conference aired live on state television.

"The poisoning of Litvinenko could not have been but under the control of British secret services," he said. Asked whether he had firm proof of British intelligence involvement in the murder, Lugovoy replied: "Yes".

But Britain hit back by saying its request for Lugovoy's extradition from Russia -- which Moscow said it could not meet -- had nothing to do with British intelligence.

"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 UK citizens and visitors were put at risk."

Looking tanned and dressed in a dapper pink shirt, Lugovoy said the Kremlin's enemies and the Western press were portraying him as a "Russian James Bond" in a campaign to tarnish Russia's image.

Private security guards were protecting Lugovoy at the news conference and sniffer dogs checked the room for weapons or explosives before he entered.

Lugovoy portrayed a shadowy world of secret codes, hard drinking and meetings with British spies plotting to compromise Putin.

"There was an open attempt to recruit me as an agent of British secret services," he said. "The British basically asked me to start collecting any compromising material on President Vladimir Putin and members of his family'."

'Kremlin campaign'

Berezovsky, who has said openly he wants to fund a revolution to change the government in Russia, denied he worked for British intelligence and said the Kremlin was using Lugovoy as its mouthpiece.

Lugovoy spoke in a media center where government officials often give news conferences and Russian television, which toes the Kremlin line, gave him extensive coverage.

"Everything about Mr Lugovoy's words and presentation made it obvious that he is acting on Kremlin instruction," Berezovsky said in a statement.

Speaking by telephone to Ekho Moskvy radio station, Berezovsky said: "This (Lugovoy's) statement makes everything clear, it has become obvious that the whole campaign the Kremlin is staging around Litvinenko's murder is a campaign of state lies."

In a statement read out by friends after he died in a London hospital, Litvinenko, a former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who obtained British citizenship, said Putin was behind his poisoning.

The Kremlin has described the allegation as nonsense.

"A real war has been stirred up against me and Russia in the western press," said Lugovoy, who once guarded the Kremlin elite and now runs a private security firm in Moscow.

He said that Litvinenko had been recruited by British intelligence and may have annoyed his handlers. "Litvinenko was an agent who had gone out of control and they got rid of him."

Lugovoy also alleged Litvinenko had obtained compromising material which could jeopardize the political refugee status of Berezovsky. He said this could have provided a motive for his murder.

"In this regard I can suppose that he did not abandon these attempts to blackmail Berezovsky and it is quite possible this led to tragic consequences," Lugovoy said.

Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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