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Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 00:45 GMT

World: Europe

Russia's department of crime

The agents say the former KGB now harbours kidnappers, killers and extortionists

Eight serving officers of the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, have alleged that instead of fighting crime, the organisation has become involved in such activities as extortion, terrorism, hostage-taking and contract killing.

Alexander Litivenko: I was told that I had not allowed patriots to kill people (in Russian)
At a press conference in Moscow, one of the officers, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, said he had been threatened after refusing to carry out an order to murder one of the country's most powerful men, the business magnate, Boris Berezovsky.

"We were told frankly that we would first be dismissed from the service and then suffocated like puppies," he said.

Later he was attacked outside his home.

Another ordinary day

"A deputy head of the department told me: You prevented patriots from killing a Jew who has robbed half of the nation."

He said the plot was "not an exceptional event in the life of the FSB".

Certain senior officials he said had used the FSB "for their own private political and material purposes, to settle accounts with undesirable persons, to carry out private political and criminal orders for a fee and sometimes simply as an instrument to earn money."

Mr Litivenko said there was a need for "a public committee to defend those officers who want to defend their rights."

On Friday, Mr Berezovsky wrote an open letter in a Russian newspaper to the head of the intelligence service, demanding that the accusations be given a proper hearing.

The military prosecutor's office is now investigating.

'Insulting' allegations

As to the other allegations, the head of the FSB, Vladimir Putin, has dismissed them as insulting and said Mr Berezovsky was trying to use the press to influence the investigation.

He has also warned that if the court finds in its favour, the FSB might bring counter-charges against the officers.

On Tuesday ORT television, the large state-owned channel in which Berezovsky has an influential stake, led with extracts from an interview with the officers which it said was filmed in the middle of the night.

"It's too soon to show the full interview right now," said the presenter. "We'll show the full discussion only if something happens to one of the participants in our discussion."

Whatever the outcome, BBC Moscow Correspondent Robert Parsons says few Russians will be surprised by the accusations.

The FSB is the successor to the Soviet KGB with many officers being former members of the KGB there is little sympathy in the organisation for the political and economic reforms of the last few years.

But our correspondent says they may now have gone too far and with the involvement of so powerful a man as Mr Berezovsky the case has all the makings of a major scandal.

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