Guardian: Berezovsky begins libel battle over claim he killed Litvinenko
- The Guardian
Exiled billionaire Berezovsky begins libel battle over claim he killed Litvinenko
Vladimir Terluk accused Kremlin critic of responsibility for Litvinenko's death on news programme in 2007
Helen Pidd guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 February 2010 20.55
The oligarch Boris Berezovsky is suing over allegations made on Russian TV. Photograph: Kieran Doherty/Reuters
One of Russia's richest oligarchs will appear at the high court in London tomorrow to begin his libel battle with a man who accused him of killing Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian secret agent who was poisoned in 2006.
Boris Berezovsky, a fierce critic of the Kremlin who claimed asylum in the UK in 2003, is suing Vladimir Terluk over comments he made on a Russian news programme in April 2007. In the interview, Terluk under the pseudonym "Pyotr" claimed Berezovsky was responsible for Litvinenko's radiation poisoning. The allegation has also been made by Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer whom the British government has named as their prime suspect for the murder.
Berezovsky has always maintained his innocence, saying he was a friend of Litvinenko. He is believed to have owned the London house where Litvinenko lived with his family just prior to his death.
In the offending interview, Terluk/Pyotr alleged that Berezovsky forced him to pretend to be a Russian secret agent tasked with poisoning Berezovsky. The aim, said Terluk, was to convince the British authorities that Berezovsky could not return to Russia for fear of his life and should be allowed to stay in the UK.
Court papers from earlier hearings show that Terluk claimed Berezovsky first offered him "huge bribes" to play along with the conspiracy, and when that didn't work, drugged him. The comments were broadcast on a programme called Vesti Nedeli (roughly, "Newsweek") on RTR Planeta, a freeview channel available throughout the UK with no subscription.
The case has taken so long to reach trial because Terluk has asked for repeated adjournments.
At a hearing in the high court on Friday, Terluk applied for another adjournment, claiming he needed more time to instruct a solicitor. He told Mr Justice Eady that he had decided not to proceed with the law firm Olswang after they told him their bill would be £3m. He insisted he had financial backing from a charity he refused to name but that was "no friend of Mr Berezovsky".
Berezovsky's barrister, Desmond Browne, QC, alleged this "sinister" charity was in fact "a front for the Russian prosecutor".
Two members of the Russian prosecution service had been present at earlier court hearings, he added.
The oligarch has been a wanted man in Russia ever since he fell out with Putin. In June last year a Russian court gave him a 13-year sentence for embezzlement and repeated a request for his extradiction.
Berezovsky was Russia's first billionaire, a former mathematician who made a fortune during the country's rush to privatisation in the 90s.
At one time he was also the primus inter pares of the Russian oligarchy, until Vladimir Putin turned upon him shortly after his election as president in March 2000.
He is no stranger to the English law courts. In 1997 he helped pave the way for wealthy foreigners to attack critical publication through the London courts when he successfully sued the American magazine Forbes, despite its slim circulation in Britain.