MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti) - Andrei Lugovoi, accused by the U.K. of poisoning a former Russian intelligence officer, alleged Thursday that the murdered Alexander Litvinenko and fugitive tycoon Boris Berezovsky worked for the British secret services.
The U.K. applied Monday for the extradition of Lugovoi, a former security officer turned businessman, saying it had enough evidence to charge him with the murder of Litvinenko, Berezovsky's associate who died of radioactive poisoning in London in November.
"Today I would like to make an announcement, which should shed some light on this dark political story, where the main roles were played by the British secret service and their agents Berezovsky and the late Litvinenko," Lugovoi told a Moscow news conference, adding that British intelligence had also approached him with an offer of cooperation.
Russian prosecutors have refused to extradite Lugovoi, saying it was against Russian law. Moscow has also been fruitlessly seeking the extradition of Berezovsky, accused of fraud at home, from Britain where he has been based since 2001 and became a British citizen in 2003.
The British Embassy in Moscow responded to Lugovoi's allegations by saying the Litvinenko case was a criminal case rather than an intelligence issue.
"Litvinenko's case is a criminal case, not an intelligence matter," the embassy spokesman said. "We expect an official and constructive response."
The spokesman said a British citizen had been murdered, and other Britons and foreigners had been exposed to danger. The Litvinenko inquiry has discovered traces of polonium, the substance that killed the former FSB officer, in London, in Germany and in planes that flew between Moscow and London.
Lugovoi quoted the late Litvinenko as saying the British secret services had recruited him first. "And then Berezovsky followed his advice and handed over some documents from the [Russian] Security Council, which he held as a former deputy council secretary, and became an MI6 agent," Lugovoi said.
Berezovsky denied any involvement with the British intelligence. "British secret services are well aware that I am not on any lists, in any organization, including MI6," he said.
"I am very sorry for Lugovoi who has become a pawn in a big political game, an instrument of the crime and now has to cover it up," the businessman said. "I have nothing against Lugovoi - there is obviously somebody with a pistol behind him... but I will never be able to justify his participation in the murder of Litvinenko."
Lugovoi, who owns a private security firm, said he was ready to face Russian justice if Russian prosecutors found the evidence supplied by their British colleagues sufficient to charge him. He added he would also hire British lawyers to defend him.
Lugovoi offered three versions of Litvinenko's poisoning - by the British secret services, the "Russian mafia" and Berezovsky, adding that he could prove the British secret services' involvement. "I am very serious about what I am saying, including these accusations," he said.
In his deathbed note, Litvinenko said Russian President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated his poisoning, an allegation denied by the Kremlin. Lugovoi told reporters Thursday that the British secret services had been looking for information to discredit Putin.
"The British basically proposed that I collect any materials to discredit Vladimir Putin and his family," Lugovoi said.
The businessman also said that he and his colleague Dmitry Kovtun, another former spy-turned-businessman and a witness in the Litvinenko inquiry, were victims rather than witnesses in the case. "We maintain a clear position that we are not only innocent or witnesses, but are victims," Lugovoi said.
Kovtun, who like Lugovoi allegedly met with Litvinenko in London on the day he fell ill, said in Moscow Thursday that German police could arrest him if he turned up in Germany where his ex-wife lives. Kovtun stayed in her apartment in Hamburg the night before he met with Litvinenko in London.
"I have received a letter through my lawyer from the German prosecutor's office, saying that if I go to Germany, they cannot guarantee that I will not be immediately arrested," Kovtun said, adding that he had no information about any criminal investigation being launched against him in Germany.
German police are investigating Kovtun's possible involvement in illegally trading radioactive substances, which could be linked to the Litvinenko poisoning case.
Lugovoi also accused Litvinenko of cooperating with Chechen separatist emissary Akhmed Zakayev, who has a political refugee status in Britain. Zakayev is wanted in Russia on terrorism charges.
"He [Litvinenko] was in Istanbul on instructions from Akhmed Zakayev, where he met with some representatives of Chechen groups," Lugovoi said.
Lugovoi said the Litvinenko case had resulted in losses of at least $25 million to his business, which also deals with soft drinks and wine. He said he had to quit the company after a Western partner requested he leave as a pre-condition for a lucrative deal. "I quit the company to save my partners," Lugovoi said.
British authorities are meanwhile planning to obtain a broader European arrest warrant for Lugovoi and put him on the Interpol wanted list. Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said last week she had filed a suit against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights.