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Russian magnate wins libel case over poisoning report

Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky walks into the High Court in London on February 9, 2010.
Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky walks into the High Court in London on February 9, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boris Berezkovsky awarded £150,000 in damages after libel case
  • Russian tycoon disputed RTR report claiming he was behind murder of Alexander Litvinenko
  • Former Russian spy Litvinenko died in 2006 from a massive dose of polonium-210
  • Judgment was issued in London because RTR broadcasts to Britain
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London, England (CNN) -- Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky has won his libel case against a Russian broadcaster in a London court, his spokeswoman told CNN Wednesday.

The tycoon, who now lives in exile in Britain, was disputing a 2007 report by the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), which claimed Berezovsky was behind the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

The High Court in London awarded Berezovsky £150,000 ($223,400) in damages, according to Berezovsky's spokeswoman, Jennifer Morgan.

"I have no doubt that, in making this program, the purpose of RTR and the Russian authorities was to undermine my asylum status in the U.K. and to put the investigation of (Alexander) Litvinenko's murder on the wrong track," Berezovsky said in a statement. "I am pleased that the court, through its judgment, has unequivocally demolished RTR's claims."

RTR is the company's satellite channel. The judgment was issued in London because RTR broadcasts to Britain.

In addition to VGTRK, a Russian man, Vladimir Terluk, was also found liable for the damages because the judge found he had made the claim in RTR's report.

VGTRK will not accept the ruling, company lawyer Zoya Matveyevskaya told the state-run RIA-Novosti news service.

The broadcaster had previously said it would not recognize any court rulings in this case and would appeal to the European Court, saying the London court process was "biased" and "politically tinted," RIA-Novosti reported.

The High Court had demanded that VGTRK reveal its information sources, and after the TV company refused, the court banned the broadcaster from taking part in the court process, RIA-Novosti reported.

Litvinenko was a former KGB agent who came to Britain in 2000 after turning whistle blower on the FSB, the KGB's successor. He claimed he had been ordered to assassinate Berezovsky.

Like other dissidents in London, Litvinenko was a vehement critic of then-President Vladimir Putin and vocal about Chechen politics. He wrote a book in which he claimed FSB agents, and not Chechen rebels, carried out a series of bombings at Moscow apartment buildings and a mall in 1999 that killed 300 people.

Litvinenko died at a London hospital November 23, 2006, from a massive dose of the radioactive material polonium-210. In a deathbed statement he blamed Putin for his death, something the Kremlin has strongly denied.

Berezovsky sued over allegations that he was involved in Litvinenko's death, which were broadcast April 1, 2007, on RTR's news program Vesti Nedeli, or News of the Week. The program featured an interview with a man named Pyotr, who made the claim.

Pyotr's identity was disguised, but the High Court judge found he was in fact Terluk, who has lived in Britain since 1999.

Berezovsky made his money during the years that Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia by taking control of many state assets, from oil and car companies to property. He was part of the Yeltsin inner circle and led an extravagant lifestyle immortalized in the film, "Oligarch."

But when Putin came to power, Berezovsky fell out of favor and found his business activities under scrutiny. He fled to Britain in 2000 and was granted political asylum in 2003.

He also saw the demise of his media ambitions after his stake in Russia's major television company ORT was sold, and his own TV6 channel was closed down.

Berezovsky and Litvinenko came to know each other in the aftermath of a failed assassination attempt on the oligarch in 1994. The pair maintained contact once in Britain.

 
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