Reports: Russia Seeks Talk With Tycoon

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; 9:10 AM

MOSCOW -- Russia's top prosecutor said his office wants to question a shadowy fugitive billionaire in the investigation of the poisoning death of a former KGB agent, news agencies reported Tuesday. He added that British police want to return to Moscow to carry out further investigations.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent and Kremlin critic who sought asylum in Britain, died in a London hospital Nov. 23, several weeks after ingesting the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210. In a deathbed statement, he blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied the allegation.

"We don't rule out that the murder may have been committed by Russian citizens who live abroad," Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

It was not clear whether Chaika was suggesting that it regarded billionaire Boris Berezovsky as a suspect, but pro-government Russian lawmakers have speculated that Berezovsky was involved in the killing as an attempt to discredit the Kremlin.

Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider, is now a ferocious critic of Putin. Russia is seeking to extradite him on fraud charges, but he was granted asylum in Britain in 2003.

Litvinenko broke with the FSB _ the main successor agency to the KGB _ in 1998 when he announced publicly that he had refused to obey an order from his superiors to kill Berezovsky.

Scotland Yard agents traveled to Russia in December, as part of their investigation, though they were not allowed to question anyone directly, instead sitting in while Russian authorities conducted the interviews.

"Literally yesterday, a new international investigative request from Great Britain arrived containing a request seeking permission for a group of British investigators probing the Litvinenko case to come to Moscow," Chaika was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"I don't rule out that that after our representatives' trip to London, we will again receive our colleagues here" in Moscow, he was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying.

In London, Scotland Yard said there were no definite plans for detectives to return to Russia as part of the inquiry into Litvinenko's death, but that it remained an option.

Litvinenko fell ill at the beginning of November after meeting at a bar at the Millennium Hotel in London with three Russian businessmen, including ex-security agent Andrei Lugovoi. All three men have denied involvement in the former agent's death.

Chaika singled out Berezovsky as one person Russian investigators would be seeking to question when they travel to London.

"We intend to question him only about the Litvinenko case," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying.

Berezovsky has declined to comment on the case.

Chaika also said Russia was seeking the cancellation of the Israeli citizenship of Leonid Nevzlin, a former owner of the OAO Yukos oil company. Prosecutors say they have been investigating him for a possible connection to Litvinenko's death.

Nevzlin fled to Israel in 2003 as the government intensified its campaign of criminal charges and tax claims against Yukos shareholders and officials, including now-jailed founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Supporters of Khodorkovsky contend the campaign was part of a Kremlin-driven campaign to punish him for financing opposition parties, and for his own growing political clout.

The Russian prosecutor also called on British police to investigate the Jan. 8 death in London of Yuri Golubev, another Yukos founder. London police have said Golubev's death was due to natural causes, but Chaika appeared to cast doubt on that.

"Naturally one can propose that he could have been physically removed. There are all grounds to suppose this, including recent information on the use of mercury fumes to poison people, including in London," ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.

© 2007 The Associated Press