Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Boris Berezovsky wins Litvinenko poison spy libel case

Boris Berezovsky outside the High Court
Boris Berezovsky described himself as a friend of Mr Litvinenko

Businessman Boris Berezovsky has won a libel case over allegations he was behind the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

He was awarded £150,000 ($224,000) at the High Court over a claim made by Russian TV channel RTR Planeta.

Mr Berezovsky, 63, said he had been a friend and supporter of Mr Litvinenko and the comments were "outrageous".

Mr Litvinenko, a fierce critic of ex-Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with polonium in 2006.

'No evidence'

Mr Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch who lives in Surrey, said outside the court he had tried to protect his reputation and was satisfied with the judgement.

He later said he had "no doubt" RTR and the Russian authorities tried to undermine his asylum status in the UK and put the murder investigation of Mr Litvinenko on the "wrong track".

We shared a dramatic and dangerous history - he had helped me and I him, and, fundamentally, we shared the same enemy
Boris Berezovsky

"I am pleased that the court, through its judgement, has unequivocally demolished RTR's claims," he said.

"I trust the conclusions of the British investigators that the trail leads to Russia and I hope that one day justice will prevail."

The state-owned channel RTR had boycotted the hearing claiming the court had robbed it of the opportunity to defend itself.

The allegations were made on its programme Vesti Nedeli, the equivalent of BBC Two's Newsnight, which is available by satellite in the UK.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Eady told the court in London: "I can say unequivocally that there is no evidence before me that Mr Berezovsky had any part in the murder of Mr Litvinenko.

Alexander Litvinenko
Former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, aged 43

"Nor, for that matter, do I see any basis for reasonable grounds to suspect him of it."

The Russian, who was granted political asylum in the UK in September 2003, was suing over the broadcast in April 2007.

It suggested the motive was that Mr Litvinenko had witnessed an attempt by Mr Berezovsky to avoid extradition and obtain political asylum by obtaining false evidence.

He was alleged to have procured the false account - that there was a security service plot to kill him - from a Vladimir Terluk.

Mr Terluk denied in court he was the person called Pyotr featured in silhouette in the programme, but the judge said he had "no doubt".

The broadcast suggested Mr Berezovsky was party to threats to Mr Terluk's life, but Mr Berezovsky insisted it was propaganda designed to threaten his asylum status and security.

'Criminal on run'

Both RTR and Mr Terluk are liable for the damages, but the judge said Mr Terluk was not personally responsible for the claim Mr Berezovsky was implicated in Mr Litvinenko's murder.

Mr Berezovsky had earlier told the court he first met Mr Litvinenko, whom he knew as Sasha, in 1994 when Mr Litvinenko was working for the Federal Counter-intelligence Service.

A judge has said Vladimir Terluk was the man filmed in silhouette in the Russian Embassy in London for the RTR programme.

BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said that in 2003, when Mr Berezovsky appeared at a London court wearing a Vladimir Putin mask in protest at extradition proceedings he claimed were politically motivated, Mr Terluk was just yards away.

At a secret rendezvous in Leicester Square, former KGB agent Mr Terluk had later claimed to one of Mr Berezovsky's entourage he had been there on a reconnaissance mission for Russia's new secret service - the FSB, our correspondent said.

He added: "Mr Terluk said he was part of a Russian secret service plot to assassinate the billionaire... to see if it was possible to get close enough to kill him with a poison pen."

He said his friend had twice saved his life - in an explosion in Moscow which killed his driver and in a stand-off during a police raid.

Mr Berezovsky said: "We shared a dramatic and dangerous history - he had helped me and I him, and, fundamentally, we shared the same enemy."

He said he visited Mr Litvinenko several times when he fell ill and was shocked when he was told his friend had ingested polonium.

Mr Litvinenko had met two Russian men, one a former KGB security officer, at a hotel in London before he fell ill.

In November 2007, Mr Berezovsky was sentenced to six years in jail in his absence for stealing millions of pounds from the Russian airline carrier Aeroflot in the 1990s. He described the verdict by a Moscow court as "a farce".

Then, in June last year he was sentenced to 13 years in his absence for stealing thousands of cars from Avtovaz, also in the 1990s.

Mr Justice Eady said: "In the eyes of many people, including Russian speakers living in this country, Mr Berezovsky has acquired the reputation of a criminal on the run from Russian justice.

"On the other hand, he is seen by others as a political dissident who is working for justice and democratisation. Many see the criminal proceedings against him as politically motivated."

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